Addison Slick TLR #Last

For my final trick, I will examine two of my current extracurricular DH projects.  The first is my personal website, and the second is the updating of my board games to be “not s***.”  I am using CSS for the former and Adobe Illustrator for the latter.

My website still somewhat nebulous in that it is unpublished (and on another computer — I’m on my tablet right now).  My ultimate goal is to host my own content on the site for free download to the public (you shouldn’t have to pay money for the crap I make), hopefully getting at least a few people to play them.  I’ve thought about trying to reformat them for the web, or even a desktop or mobile app, but I feel like the medium helps my intended metaphor so I’d rather keep them as they are for now.
I’ve also been using Illustrator to make custom graphics for the site to give it a more directed feel.  Because the medium I’ve used the most is board games, I want the site to have a feeling sort of like that.  Presently, my site’s pages are presented on a sort of banner made of generic game spaces.  I’m hoping to expand that theme into other elements of the CSS.

For my games, I’ve been trying to improve my narrative text and rework mechanics to make it more choice-based than the current edition.  Right now, they both feel a bit like Candy Land and that’s awful.  In the depression game, I’m changing the path choices to allow the player to skip and event to represent memory repression. I also want to change the dice mechanic to allow the player to choose between 2 outcomes; this not only gives players more control, but means that removing that control causes a greater panic and anxiety in the player later in the game.  It should be fun.

The games will be available as .pdfs on my site by [TBD].

TLR #5

So I don’t suppose looking at things like Homestuck counts as having made progress for a Technical Learning Report, does it? It’s the thing Addison mentioned when we first started the Interactive Fiction group, and while I can understand what he meant when he said that Homestuck is an example of interactive fiction, I doubt this is what we will end up trying to go for, at least I hope this isn’t what we are trying to achieve.

The interactive fiction idea we are going for seems more inline with the wikis that are made for basically every fandom in existence. I’ve been looking at wikis of things that are familiar to me such as Star Wars or Game of Thrones and it looks like every detail, major and minor, of these things gets recorded on these wikis and while you can change it at any time, if the information is inaccurate, someone else on the website is quick to come in and fix it. I mention all this as the idea that Addison and the rest of us discussed for interactive fiction is to create a wiki for a fictional world and  move backwards from there, so I just wanted to see and experiment a little with previously established wikis.

As for the coding which I have been doing this semester, I have been going over both HTML and CSS off and on over the past few weeks just to make sure I don’t forget everything I got out of going over them the first time (It’s only been a few years and I remember next to nothing about coding with C++). I think I’ll be establishing a consistent schedule to use both HTML and CSS once the semester is over, as I think that knowing both could be very useful in the future and one the semester is over I will have much more time to do with them as I wish. I mentioned in my last TLR that I had also started trying to learn Java just to add to a potential coding arsenal (I wish). Since my last TLR, while I have gone over some more Java related tutorials, I have not done as much with it as I had previously intended to. Due to the work over the past couple weeks, both in and out of school, my progress on Java has been very slow. Like with HTML and CSS, however, I intend to spend more time learning Java once the semester is over and I have a chance to breathe. The way that we are planning out the Interactive Fiction group project at the moment, it looks like I won’t need to use a lot of coding for that, at least not advanced coding. Even so, I would like to continue learning and practicing with these coding languages even after this class is finished. Though I had briefly considered trying to learn Python before this class had ended, the way it stands now it would probably be best to save that for much later.

CDechsi – TLR 5

This time I decided to experiment with audio and visual combination in Adobe Premier Pro and Audacity. Basically, I took pictures, like screenshots or animated environmental effects, and layered a track of audio behind them. This effect is basically supposed to provide a sense of engrossment to the viewer/reader, which may or may not have a place in my part of the interactive fiction project.

I used Audacity to experiment with my audio only method. I combined certain sounds, like clock ticking, with a hollow wind that people would probably hear from a drafty old house. Balancing the audio was a bit of work but the end result sounded good enough. The problem is deciding which one I will go with, whether it’s simple video and audio work or audio only. Both will be somewhat challenging just fixing everything together, but we’ll see what happens.

– Champ

TLR#5 Asia W

I have began to explore a new site called moovly.com. Moovly provides more animating options than scratch. Users can create animated videos, banner ads, presentations, infographics, e-cards, and videoclips.The purpose of the creations on this site are to demonstrate, explain, and/or entertain. That being said it appears that it will be of more assistance in our final group project.

When you begin you are offered a large library of  objects to animate. This tool has been much easier to use than scratch. Unfortunately, all of the features are not free to use. The tutorials available on the website helped me to present information in a fun way. I am given the option to begin from scratch, edit an existing animation, or duplicate one and edit the copy.

For our final project, we are working with a water bottle. I decided to take the image of a  bottle from the library and figure out all of the things I could make it do. It wasn’t necessary for me to understand graphing like with scratch instead I could use previously set directions to control my object’s movements.

After understanding how to make the generic bottle function I attempted to animate a water bottle more relatable to our project. I uploaded the image of an actual water bottle. More real than the sketch, it was also more difficult to animate. After trying various uploads I was able to work with the most flexible image.

Adding sound to the animation was more difficult. A library was not offered to me instead I had to use my own productions and downloads. Playing around with different sounds to see what was most appropriate for the animation I was developing was not difficult but time consuming. I suppose if I were to create the sounds myself I would have the ability to produce the most fitting sound.

Adjusting the timing of the appearance of the images and sound was much easier on Moovly. Instead of guessing I was able to see a storyboard of all of the things I created and could adjust the timeline according to how I wanted things to appear.

Scratch and Moovly are very similar platforms. Moovly is much more user friendly. The skill I developed on Scratch helped me to operate Moovly quickly but anything I didn’t understand how to do, a tutorial explained very comprehensibly how I should move forward. Unlike with scratch, the animations I create with Moovly will be easy to embed in our final project. Anything I create on Moovly can be downloaded to my personal computer and uploaded elsewhere.

TLR 5 Corey Kirk

Learning how to code in Python is a lot harder than I originally thought. I thought I would learn it just as fast as HTML but I’m just not. One of the main reasons for this is that I hit the part where I am supposed to know a little bit of math. I can barely pass the math classes that I am in now at school, let alone the stuff that I need to learn for the language. However, there is a bit of silver lining in it. Several people I know, including those who have actually made games that they have shown a conventions like PAX East, have offered to help me learn to program in Python. So whatever I can figure out, I will be able to go to them for additional explanation on how to actually create programs.

I am a bit surprised that what I have learn so far seems less practical for my purposes for this course. Sure, learning Python will help me make programs, but for the project we are working on in my group, and for any web based applications, my previous knowledge of HTML, CSS, and the little skills in JavaScript are helping a lot more. Although, that’s not to say that I don’t want to learn. I still want to get very good at Python so that I can move onto C++, which is the standard language for creating video games, which is my ultimate goal.

Since this is my final TLR for the semester, I will say this; this semester provided me with more understanding of code, but I gained an unmeasurable amount of knowledge about how code affects the world in which we find ourselves living day to day. I am grateful that I had an opportunity to take this class because it opened my viewpoint wider than it has ever been in the past.

Analysis of a DH project: BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815

Overview:

BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 is an interactive 2.5 billion pixel image that was created by UMBC’s Imaging Research Center (IRC). BEARING stands for “Bird’s Eye Annotated Representational Image/Navigable Gigapixel Scene”. The image visualizes the city of Baltimore in 1815, during the aftermath of the British attack on Fort McHenry. As we know, the attack of Fort McHenry is a moment that was immortalized by Francis Scott Key when he penned the Star Spangled Banner after the battle.

The image was completed in the fall of 2013, after two years and 5,000 hours of work. UMBC’s IRC worked in collaboration with the Maryland Historical Society (located in Baltimore), and the Maryland Division of Tourism, the 1812 Bicentennial Commission, and the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation provided funding.

BEARINGSofBaltimore

The display at the Maryland Historical Society

Features

The image can be seen on your browser (Google Chrome required) or on a large display at the Maryland Historical Society. For this review I will focus on the browser experience. The first glimpse of the map may require a second glance. The familiar tall buildings and interstate system are absent and the map is oriented in a way that most have probably never viewed the Baltimore landscape. The user overlooks Baltimore aimed in the direction of Fort McHenry. This is view, looking down river, is the city as Francis Scott Key would have seen it in 1815. A user can manipulate the map just like they would Google maps on the computer (the display in the Maryland Historical Society is touch screen). The user can zoom in and out of every available part of the image, almost to part of being able to see clearly, individual trees.

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The image as seen on Chrome browser. Visit http://bearings.earlybaltimore.org/

At the bottom of the page the user can select from a list of “Hotspots”, which are shortcuts that automatically zoom the user into certain places of historical significance. Some of these locations are still components of the city circa 2014, such as the Lexington Market. Hotspots also include things that no longer make up the fabric of the city such as the “mud machine”, a contraption that would dredge the harbor, and the multiple “ropewalks”, extremely long and narrow buildings that made ropes. These Hotspots provide some insight to the nature of the city’s burgeoning harbor industry at the time.

When zoomed into a Hotspot a user can click the underlined text to reveal pop up windows that provide information about the Hotspot and often include images of artifacts, or transcriptions of relevant primary source documents. Did you know that Lexington market is the oldest continually running market in the country? From the Hostpots users can learn information about the places they may have interacted with before in everyday life. Currently there are 24 hotspots. The map also allows the user to toggle on and off, a feature that will overlay important landmarks that exist today:  Camden Yards, interstate 95, Domino Sugar factory, etc.

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Overlaid landmarks of Baltimore in 2014

What makes this DH?

According to Matthew Kirschenbaum in his chapter of the book Debates in the Digital Humanities, “The digital humanities, also known as humanities computing, is a field of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities”. In keeping with this definition, BEARINGS is clearly an example of a DH project. This is made clear by a video of how the IRC team created the predecessor and proof of concept for the image of Baltimore, a visualization of DC.

In the video, Dan describes the primary challenge of creating the base map: the layer of the image that consists of cartographic information based on data pulled from early paintings, drawings, and documents about the area. This phase represents how computation and the humanities intersect in the creation of new scholarship. Mapping and animation software are able to stitch together disparate pieces historical information that has been gathered by a team of “architectural historians, cartographers, engineers, and ecologists to assess the often unreliable eye-witness accounts “.  In 1815, photography was not invented and so it was difficult for the animators and mapmakers to ascertain what the area actually looked like. There are illustrations from the time but most professionals at the time were educated in the romantic landscape tradition and thus their work does not provide accurate topography, and spatial information. After digging through documents like detectives, the IRC worked with UMBC’s Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education (CUERE) to create an accurate topographic map also portrays the spatial data of buildings in three dimensions.

Critiques and ideas for future functionalities

        Dan Bailey from the IRC team mentioned in an interview with WYPR that the BEARINGS project is not meant to be a static form of scholarship.  The project is meant to grow throughout the years and serve as a framework for further kinds scholarship, similar to how Google Maps provides more functionality than just that of a traditional map by including information/reviews of restaurants, etc.

As a giga pixel image, BEARINGS very clearly adheres with the following DH definition from Short Guide to the Digital_Hummanites:

Digital Humanities marks a move beyond a privileging of the textual, emphasizing graphical methods of knowledge production and organization, design as an integral component of re-search, transmedia crisscrossings, and an expanded concept of the sensorium of humanistic knowledge.

However, I wish that beneath the initial visual layers of information in the BEARINGS gigapixel, there were more content, including text. I do believe that DH projects need to push past relying on text to carry the day but I also think that text and even long form writing components should always be included in some way. Articles can provide depth on certain topics that can aid further discoveries by the user in the image. To no fault of their own, the user is oblivious to many of the historical details included in the gigapixel. For example, consider the following excerpt from a press release about the visualization written by the Maryland Historical Society.

A historically accurate paint scheme was used for the shutters. Notice how the shutters were louvered on the upper floors – their purpose was for ventilation from the hot, dusty street below. On the first floor, the shutters were paneled, for privacy from passersby. A hand-painted sign, a replica of what hung outside the hotel, was the final touch.

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The furthest you can zoom in, it is difficult to notice historical significance of the blind design.

I did not notice the detail about the shutters from my exploration of the image. I simply didn’t know that this level of detail was possible in the image, and even if I had noticed it I would not have understood the historical significance. I think this information is important because it allows the image to connect to an aspect of the lived experience that is still relevant to Baltimore. Current residents who deal with the sweltering summer months can surely relate with past residents who made design modifications to help aid ventilation in homes.  The fact that this interesting detail is not integrated into the image itself supports my belief that the image needs greater amounts of interaction.

I would include more text boxes at certain levels of the information hierarchy in this project. This would serve as a curating force, helping users to understand what they’re looking at. Future iterations of the project could allow users additional opportunities to interact with buildings. Rather than only being presented with a blurb to read when looking a Hotspot,  the text could could be related to the object itself in some way. For example users could be prompted to click on the blinds of a certain building and learn about the reason for their design in 1815.

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“BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 also includes accurate representations of the area’s vegetation, including plants that have since become scarce and even extinct. The American Chestnut Tree, for instance, was prevalent in 1815 Maryland before being wiped out by blight between the late 1800s and the mid 1950’s.” Read more from the Maryland Historical Society press release linked above.

Another further form of interaction that I think is missing is the ability of the image to connect to additional scholarship outside the image itself. Could there be a kind of API for the project? The image can then serve as a gateway to further information relating to Baltimore and help create a discourse community that would co-create an understanding of Baltimore’s past. Open source components could be a powerful addition to the project. This has succeeded with maps before. Consider Waze, a navigation mobile app recently acquired by Google, which relies on user-generated content to present users with relevant information about such as traffic conditions and the location of speed traps (I’ve never heard of an open source gigapixel so I will have to do further research).

Besides increased methods of interaction, I do wish that the creators of the project incorporated reflexivity into the image to help us understand how the map was made from archive material. For example, users should be able to easily view what documents serve as evidence for why buildings exist in their given locations. As Johanna Drucker explains in her article “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display”, it is important that in DH projects, data be portrayed as qualitative and not given truths. By providing access into their data analysis process, the team behind BEARINGS would add transparency to their analysis and in the process also make the archive of documents from the Maryland Historical Society accessible in a totally new way. If each Hotspot in the image linked to relevant archival documents, the project will also create a method of locating historical information that is not possible through traditional catalog search functions. The map could be a form of visually searching the historical arhcive of the Maryland Historical Society.

These additions I have proposed will require time, of course. Dan Bailey has expressed that the project will continue to grow over the years so it will be exciting to see how image, and our understanding of the city of Baltimore, changes over time. Please comment below if you have any additional suggestions for Dan Bailey and his team.

Addison Slick TLR #4

As we’re moving rapidly toward the point at which the class will divide into groups and begin working independently on projects, it’s time for me to break from just coding and examine practical issues with my suggested wiki-based fiction project.  Our goal, first off, is simply to build fiction using the wiki platform.  Our purpose in this exercise is therefore to examine the differences in the communal fiction of our wiki as well as to use it to guide writing a few traditional-form short stories — the opposite of how the practice normally works.  The best example would be “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which is a deep and expansive universe.  My encounters with that fictional world come from two sources: the show “Game of Thrones” and the wiki.

The practical issues involve building and hosting the wiki.  As I’ve stated before, the easy way out is through Wikia, a free wiki hosting site.  The obvious enticement is the “free” part, but I also wouldn’t have to build and maintain the structure supporting our content.  The clear downside (beyond the whiney hipster in me going “but it’s Wikia!  It’s so bad!”) is that the content is run on an existing tool and part of the group project is to build.  We would still indeed be “building” in the same sense of Christine de Pizan’s city of ladies, but that’s clearly just circumnavigating the exercise, defeating its intention.  However, this also means I won’t have to keep paying for the service if I find the project to be not worth showing off.

The other end is to suck it up and pay for hosting, which I need to do anyway.  My idea pursuing this route is to host the wiki within a personal website (which I will build).  This is effort, but I do feel it’s the right thing to do.  However, I’m leery going forward in CS with the intent on “doing the right thing.” In my AI course a few years ago, my group decided this meant coding our project in LISP.  This decision greatly complicated our project and resulted in a program that was not only dramatically less efficient than others in the class, but one which I barely understood (because, again, LISP is awful).

Flashbacks aside, I do know hosting is the right way to go but the decision is difficult for me.

Stephen Kelley TLR #4

Well it took me long enough, but I think I’m finally done with HTML and CSS, at least for now. It seems silly that I’ve stuck with only the two of them for so long, but I’m not exactly a computer person and I wanted to try and get those down as much as possible before moving on to something else. Either way, I went through the advanced tutorials for both HTML and CSS numerous times and while I don’t think I am exactly adept at either of them, I think I have learned quite a bit. I am hoping that what I have learned sticks with me, but just in case I’ll probably still practice with both codes a bit in my off time. I messed around with both of them enough to know that I am really not a fan of CSS and HTML is only better because it seems like it matters a bit more where it counts. I keep thinking back to learning C++ and I think that learning HTML has been a better experience over all than that has been, but CSS is still a mixed bag.

So with HTML and CSS finally (more or less) behind me, I decided to look into another programming language to try and learn. I decided to go with Java since that seems to be a fairly popular code to use. What the ultimate difference is on when you use one over the other I’m still not 100% sure, but I’m getting the gist. I briefly considered choosing Python over Java, but I know enough people who have taken the time out to learn Python to know that if I am going to learn it, I should probably save it for later.

So I started on the Java tutorials that I found online. My first impression: it feels like learning HTML all over again. In short, while I am getting the general feel for it, it’s still too unfamiliar for me to just jump right into. My first instinct when dealing with any kind of code nowadays is to think of it like it is HTML, which might be why my progress in CSS was so slow. In Java however, I feel like I need to just completely start from the beginning on my learning experience. I am looking at it with (sort of) a clean slate mindset and while I’m still not getting it as quickly as with HTML, I am messing around with Java and going through the basic tutorials enough that I think I will be able to make some progress on it pretty soon. If I keep up actually practicing with it and move on to the advanced tutorials faster than I did with HTML while keeping myself in the code more than a couple times a week then I think I’ll be able to make enough progress on Java to move onto something else by the end of the semester. A part of me still kind of hopes I’ll be able to learn Python for whatever reason, but I’m going to get through this first.

CDechsi – TLR 4

I’m shifting gears this time around and going into video editing. Since I’m part of the interactive fiction group, some degree of animation and editing might be part of the project requirements. I have an Adobe Suite to utilize, so if I have to focus on animation or video editing I can do that on the fly.

But for this time around I’ll be focusing on what I did with video editing and Adobe Premiere, and right now is just a simple refresher. It’s been a while, so I practiced on fading in and out, panning, zooming in and out, and slowing down and speeding up a video. I also refreshed myself on recoloring, adding filters, sound adjusting, and playing different videos simultaneously on the same track.

It’s pretty fun to get back into video editing, and while I mentioned a lot of things, all that is, as far as I’m aware, editing stuff that beginner editors probably already know. Video editing is also somewhat more time consuming because there literally is some wait time to consider while compiling the video into a format appropriate for, say, YouTube. This wait time could range anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours.

However, while I did compile a small video at the end of my practicing and refreshing, it was very low quality so it didn’t take too long to finish, around 10 minutes. I’ll be checking how to incorporate these skills into an interactive fiction (hopefully it’ll be possible), but there’s always room for scenes when it comes to visuals… right?

TLR #4 Front End Web Development (fewd)

Since my last TLR I have stepped up my resolve to learn fewd and my belief in the importance of computer literacy. While I was previously working on the “interactive web design” course Codecademy I have been enrolled in an online fewd course through Thinkful. Thinkful is one of the most budget friendly courses among a number of paid online courses. Its been so worth the investment. Every week i spend an hour on Google Hangout with mentor provided by Thinkful. My mentor’s name is Justin and he is a web developer who is currently working from the Philippines (I have the impression is moves around a lot). He has been a great resource, he helps me move past road blocks in my projects, teaches me best practices used by developers, and points me in the direction of the best online resources. Through Thinkful I am also connected to a community of similarly driven students and together we help solve problems that were having on projects. I think the community that the course provides helps keep me motivated to continue spending time (about 10-12 hours a week) learning fewd. Below are some examples of what I have learned so far:

Chrome developer tools are AMAZING and I never thought I would be using something called a “developer tool” or that listed “rapid prototyping” among its many uses. Am I worthy?

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Chrome Developer Tools allow you to see changes to a website’s code in real time. This can allow you to play with the look of a site such as the New York Times for shits and giggles, as you can see above. But it really comes in handy when your building your own site. It helps you quickly locate a problem or find a solution. You can even save changes directly to your local file after testing it out on chrome!

Below is a site that I am currently working on:

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I am working to replicate a site of a business called Karma. It is a still a work in progress. For example I have created borders around all the elements to help me better visualize how the elements interact with one another.

It feels good to have learned so much in three weeks but there is so much to the world of fewd.  I am hoping to complete my html unit soon so that I can move on to the javascript unit which I think will be really helpful for my final project. But there is so much to grasp with HTML and CSS so it may take me another week and a half.