Monday, December 18, 2006

 

Corporate Responsibility?

I'm pretty appalled by the level of corporate responsibility shown in some sectors of the technology field. Incidents like Enron have forced a new emphasis on ethics in business. Business programs all require ethics courses and accreditation exams all have sections on ethics, for the CFA (certified financial advisor) exam, if you fail the ethics section, you fail the exam. So why do businesses in technology not have the same practices? If you need ethics to deal with peoples' money, why not for their computers? For many, computers are necessary to their financial health. When technology fails, it costs to repair/replace just as insider trading costs regular shareholders.

The main trigger to my concern with corporate responsibility in technology was the spectacle of near-rioting hordes of consumers trying to get hold of the new Playstation 3. It's not the first time new technological gadgets have caused a commotion, it has become a common ploy to generate even more 'buzz' about new products. The company deliberately shorts production so that demand outweighs supply, think of it like this: demand>supply=riot. Now I know the people shoving and stampeding one another have a responsibility in the situation. But many laws exist to protect people from themselves (seatbelts, restricted substances...), it seems logical that laws need to protect people in these situations as well.

 

Does Technology Unite or Divide?

This is a question that has emerged in my head many times over the course of this class. I can't seem to settle on an answer. While the internet brings together people with common interests who wouldn't otherwise be likely to correspond, it also encourages people to stay in rooms, but themselves, intereacting via computer rather than personal contact. It is bad to interact over the net instead of in person? Where to draw the line? I pay my bills online, am I being anti-social? Should I, as a good and active member of society, go to the bank to interact with the teller and pay my bills there? But it's so convenient to pay online, no trip to the bank, I can pay my VISA in the few minutes between classes. How far does convenience go as an excuse? After all, it's more convenient for those with similar but uncommon interests to communicate online rather than through the post or in person in many cases. Is interaction or the form interaction takes more important?
On a global scale, the internet is allowing many people to learn about people and cultures they may not have otherwise experienced. Yet most people are not going online for an enlightening experience, they want to shop, or play video games, or find out if Britney will take back K-Fed. I would like to see more research into how effective the internet is in bringing together people from diverse cultures. There are so many resources online that while those with similar interests can find each other, the vast amount of resources makes it possible, and likely, that you will never cross paths with those without your specific interests; that's not very unifying. Does the internet serve to reinforce divisions?

But then, what do we expect the internet to be? The internet doesn't claim to be the solution to global disharmony. Most people seem to use the internet as an extension of what they do in their usual lives. Do we expect too much of the internet to expect it to change people? After all, it is just a tool, we're the ones using it. The criticisms of the net are actually criticisms of ourselves, donkey photos and all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

 

Timelines

This assignment was interesting in several ways. Looking over the progress of concepts, interpretations, and representations of time, I was struck anew at how tied to religion early ideas were. Other interpretations related time of music. Both religious and scientific models denoting time as trees, chains, and ladders, all inherently insinuate upward progress. This idea still exists today, I think. Because something is newer, it is often assumed to be better, hence consumerism. This applies to technology too. Think of the lineups, people camped out for days, and violence that accompanied the release of the new Playstation 3. Most of these people already had the previous edition, it wasn;t that they couldn't play video games without the new model, but they wanted the new model and games. Even more, they wanted to be one of the first to have the new system.

The timeline also showed how thinkers became more occupied with precise time. As the world modernized time and puctuality became more important. But is this cultural? Many lifestyles don't approach time the same. Even just on farms, time is treated differently. Exact timing is not always as important or measured by the hands of a clock.

Reading through the development of different timelines and ideas, I noticed how closed my definition of time was. To me time is minutes, hours, months...But before these were all as established and unquestioned as they are today, so many more things related to time. Many thinkers investigated planetary rotation or the speed of objects as a function of time.

Looking over the many attempts to illustrate or quantify time made me feel better. During practicum last year I found one of the challenges was to give students an idea of what was happening simultaneously throughout the world. Students, and all of us I think, have a tendency to relate like events or civilizations rather than relate chronologies. Just because the West was modern, other parts of the world were at very different levels. Similarly, just because Europe was not very developed in the Middle Ages, and even before, doesn;t mean that other cultures were similarly stagnating.

My Canadian pride was hurt that Sandford Fleming did not merit a mention, if you remember your 'Heritage Minutes', Fleming was the inventor of Standard Time. Considering some of those mentioned in the timeline of timelines were even less directly linked to creating our modern system, I think he deserved mention.

I find timelines very helpful in general, they can focus and summarize a great deal of information. Also, many of us, including me, appreciate the visual format. The main flaw however, I believe, is that by laying out events in line, we denote simplicity; a certain cause and effect. Especially when teaching youth I think it nmust be made clear that events were not inevitable, other outcomes were possible.

Also timelines can be problamatic because to do justice to events and complexity, simple linear timelines are sometimes not possible. However, creating non-linear timelines can be difficult, and with the internet age, the technological knowledge needed to create a non-linear timeline by computer may inhibit some from trying, or their result could lack the polish which seems intrinsically tied to being seen as valid.

When looking at several options from the list of timelines I was surprised by how the quality of the site or even just the symbols, length of entries...affected my opinion of its validity. The ability, through money or skill, to put together a professional-looking site seems to be critical to having users believe the accuracy of the information itself.

Lastly, for those with a moment, I recommnend looking at the entry from 1760 on the timeline of timelines. It gives visual diagrams of well-told stories. It is really quite interesting a worth a look.

Monday, November 27, 2006

 

History Websites

Aurore: The Mystery of the Martyred Child: The site greets the viewer with a cheerful Welcome! and a photo of a church. The border around the photo is very wide and prevents the viewer from being able to see the full photo without scolling down. This seems unecessary, by reducing the picture frame, the full photo would be clearly visible. Upon scrolling down, text appears. The text is broken up into smaller paragraphs which make it much more readable and thought the colour contrast is dull (black text on white background) it is clear. The introduction outlines the topic of the site and provides basic information of the content. The menu for other pages in the site, located at the bottom, could be more user-friendly if it were larger and used a different colour contrast than grey on black.

History Wired: This site is designed for those more familar with web use than me and perhaps this is the reason why I personally find it unappealing. It also took a far while to lad without a very impressive result. The format and colour contrast at first appear welcoming and professional, yet interaction with the site is less rewarding. The small topic icons could be improved and the grid system for locating topics of interest was unpleasant and frustrating. The merest whisper of the mouse sends you flying across the grid, although likely you were nowhere near your intended target in any case. As the mouse moves on the grid lines from the topic boxes at the top go to the arrow indicating that your item on the grid corresponds to that/those topics. While the idea behind this is good it requires development to be more user friendly, even if only to make the lines more visible. The lefthand side of the menu is almost all blank except for a small 'search' box and a drop box with general topics. It remains unclear whether these are intended to be used together. Clicking on an area and selecting 'zoom in' allows the viewer to see the titles for the differnt sections which if helpful if you are already near what you are looking for. If not it can take a far bit of manuvering to cover the grid.

Imagining the French Revolution
: This site was more to my liking. A select few icons represented the content of the site (essays, images, discussion, about). This allowed for a clear overview of the site. Hovering on each brought a larger picture to depict the topic. This allowed the viewer to feel more engaged in the site. Similarly when on accompaning pages, every effort is made to keep the content from requiring scrolling. This allows for a quick and clear survey of the content. The essays are formatted well to make them easy to read and they are broken up into multiple pages. Though this does make the reading less daunting because the viewer doesn't face a deluge of text, it is sometimes annoying to flip back and forth between pages.

National Geographic: Remembering Pearl Harbor: This site opens to a 'collage' first page, full of various materials not all linked to the topic. Moving icons and advertisments fail to create a cohesive feel to the page. Despite this, the site is easy to use. Unpredicted audio content on several pages led to minor embarasment in the computer lab but in a more private environment could add to the experience of the site. When moving through the story of the attack, I was constantly distracted by the ads flashing just below. Although funding for projects can be difficult I can't condone flashing advertisments for trips to Australia and Vonage while depicting the tragic events of Pearl Harbour and World War II.

The Valley of the Shadow: This site opens well, with a visuals, title, and clear icon to enter the site. Going into the site a list of content is presented as well as, perhaps most importantly, a guide to using it which provides a clear description and links to content as well as teacher resources. The site was easy to navigate and provided information in an easy to read format that would allow students to use the site.

Though the content of sites is essential to their usefulness, structure and useability can not be underdeveloped. Basics such as readability and layout are critical to the user's ability to make use of the site. In history we understand that it isn't just the argument that you are making but the manner in which you present it that affects your mark. This premise remains true when establishing history websites. Considering the reluctance of many historians to use web resources and the need for sites accessible to students the composition of a site becomes critically important. Likely the information presented on a site can be found elsewhere, it is in making the information easily accessible and interesting that a site has merit.

 

Flickr Pool

I found it interesting to see how different people interpreted the statement of "personal design solutions for organizing and structuring everyday life and environment.” Personally, being a boring sort of person, I would most likely relate this statement to my home. It is there that I have the most control over structuring my environment and therefore it is the space that I would feel most clearly represents my design of my personal environment.
Fortunately for the creativity of the Flickr pool, contributors showed a variety of other interpretations. Interesting, none depicted their living space but many did show their general environment. Street scenes and photos of, presumably, their local community were more common. Does this reflect a desire for privacy or a self-concsiousness about home environments? This seems unlikely considering the personal nature of much of digital content in general. Could it rather be that contributors found my basic interpretation too boring and sought to explore more diverse ways to meet the task?
What was interesting was the tendency of contributors to post photos clearly from the same area. One posted three different photos from within a bookstore or library while another posted three of snow-filled roads lined by buildings and cars. Perhaps one photo was not enough to express their concept. All show a clearly identifiable sense or presentation of spatial ordering and design. Most were representative of 'positive' organization and design; the presence of a clear plan of design, i.e. shelving books, parked cars, stacked chairs. This seems to indicate that design corresponds for many to intention order.
The few exceptions to this were also interesting. If contributors chose to present a different vision of order it was the reverse; instead of objects carefully laid-out, they were strewn together in no discernable pattern. An example of this was the photo of a heap of fish on a patch of rock. It seems that there are no have measures to interpretation, we either accept or refute, dipicting full order or total chaos. This reminds me to some extent of the programs and websites that we have encountered throughout the class activities. Designers either opt for a clearly defined order or chose to make a radical departure from the norm.
This also ties in to a fundamental issue: how should information be presented? Clearly people have different interpretations. The most basic example of this is search terms; words and sentance composition can dramatically change search results without perhaps the full understanding of the searcher. Other times searches can be remarkably frustrating if you don't know the one or more terms tied to your results. How do we make a system orderly enough that everyone can easily understand and use it, yet flexible enough to incorporate individual perceptions?

 

Web Scavanger Hunt

I've been going over some of the exercises from earlier in the semester to try to evaluate how much progress I've made in the brave new world of technology that we've explored. The results seem to be mixed. I was pleased to see that I improved on the web scavenger hunt, but I still wasn't finding everything.

I think the problem is learning the language that search engines respond to. I find the same problem emerged when I began searching library catelogues, online resources, etc. I think that more effort should be made to educate students in search engine style enqueries. There are maps showing where all the call numbers are listed, and volumes explaining what each Library of Congress designation is; don't electronic resources deserve the same? Sure there's the explaination of boolean search style, but many search engines are different, and what works for one doesn't always give you the same results from another.

 

H-bot

I decided to play around with H-bot a little to see how valuable it would be in answering some of my questions. While I think the concept of H-bot is useful and the project has potential to be a useful learning tool for students, it still does need work. While 'popular' topics in American and Canadian history generally received good, or any, answer to simple questions, ex: When was the American Revolution. How a question was phrased is important to getting the right answer. This is problematic in a tol for students, who might not know the 'right' terms to use. For example H-Bot correctly answers 'when did Newfoundland join Confederation' but could not anwer 'when did Newfoundland join Canada'.

When I moved into more obscure topics, such as the Boer War H-bot could not answer any of my queries, including when the war was, where it was. To my question of who Paul Kruger was, H-bot replied: Stephanus Johannes Paul Kruger (October 10, 1825 - July 14 1904), a.k.a. "Oom" (Uncle) Paul, was born in the Cape Colony into a family of Prussian descent. He was a prominent Boer resistance leader against British rule and became president of the Transvaal Republic on [[30. The brief answer does not really give credit to the role that Kruger played. However a similarly brief entry exists for George Washington. This is understandable given that the project is that of a lone professor rather than a large company. Perhaps to build data, H-bot could allow users to enter data, like Wikipedia.

Monday, November 13, 2006

 

GIS

I browsed the David Rumsey site for this week and really enjoyed it. I would recommend the site to anyine with the least interest in historical maps. A word of warning: do not go to this site if you have other work due soon.

Because of, yet another, foible of my computer (not allowing pop-ups) I could not access the collection using the insight Browser option. After this initially discouraging start, lightly peppered with my cries of 'why won't you work!?', I moved on to the other options. The Collection Ticker was what I settled on. I commend those who structured the layout and operation of this approach.

The collection pans past slowly in a single line from right to left. The speed is sufficiently slow that you can eyeball the maps easily before they pass from the screen; for those who need/want more time to peruse, a pause button is easily accessible. If you would like to know the maps title/content a simple hover of the mouse displays the information clearly. I chose to leave the mouse icon on the middle of the screen, therefore as thumbnails of the maps panned by each title was listed. The reverse option is also very helpful. Also noteworthy is the inclusion of pictures/digital images of the covers of atlases and cartographic documents.

After multiple downloads I was finally looking at the map of New York City that I was interested in. The colour delineation was surprisingly clear; I have sometimes found that seemingly small issues like colour selection are overlooked in such large projects. Tools such as the one for measuring distance were easy to use but others were less applicable, or perhaps I used them improperly. A button or link for a tutorial explaining the possible manipulations and options would have been helpful. I think that perhaps this site is more important as a demonstration of future rather than realized potential for GIS and historical studies.

The site is not universally positive. I was discouraged by the repeated downloads necessary to view the maps -although understandable instructions were generally provided. Also, a search option would dramatically increase the usefulness of the site for research purposes especially.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

 

FindForward, Historical Connections, and Continuity

The FindForward site does take awhile to produce the results. This is understandable as it is sending, receiving, and compiling a vast amount of data. I knew and to some extent understood this and yet I still found myself getting very impatient as I waited. Realisitically the wait was generally less than a minute. I found this interesting in that it shows how accustomed to not only access to information, but speedy access and retrival.

I think this could be disadvantageous to many small businesses, museums, universities, etc. who are trying to compete with larger instituations in the virtual world; 'clients' are gaining a sense of entitlement to faster, more elaborate and well-constructed websites that can entail huge cost and effort to establish and maintain. Is the digital age inherently disadvantageous to smaller operations? Or is it equalizing? After all the McCord Museum, small by most empirical standards, is able to make its presence felt in the digital realm in greater proportion to its physical or financial size.

As per this week's activity specifically, I was looking at FindForward, a search program that searches for terms per year and plots the occurance on a bar graph. This visual representation is ideal for presenting a 'big picture' interpretation and understanding of topics. The activity is also interesting for showing various meanings of words, i.e 'depression '; modern understanding of this term generally relates to the Great Depression but the results inform the viewer that it was drawing a large amount of attention in 1902. This could be used to illustrate ideas of continuity to students; ideas and concerns such as economic downturn date back before modern interpretations.

It also shows the cyclical nature of history and historical interest. Events in the past deemed comparable to occuring or predicted current events often gain renewed attention. An example of this is the FindForward results for 'depression' from 1950-2000. A definite increased attention in marked in the late eighties and nineties, a time when fears of Western economic degeneration were resurging.

I found this noticeable in another way when searching for 'Boer War.' I was surprised to see that the greatest period in the 1950-2000 range was 1956. Though FindForward does not list the relevant information, having identified a year of interest you have only to type the term and year into Google to find the results FindForward is based on. 'Boer War' peaks in 1956 because the is the date commonly given to the commencement of the Vietnam War to which the Boer War is frequently compared. Though I was familiar with this oft-mentioned comparison, it renewed my awareness and highlights the role that linked events can have.

The site is also interesting in that it shows the often complementary relationship between public interest and involvement and the media. Many of the peaks in increased attention correspond with media releases such as movies or books. The peak in attention to 'depression' in the late nineties can also be explained as corresponding to the release of a movie entitled 'The Great Depression' in 1998.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

 

Programmable Webs

This week's foray into programmable webs was interesting to say the least; I had no idea that is so common for people to be combining visual maps and information for so many different purposes. I knew of programs that could locate stores, etc. near a location but it was interesting to see how various people are making use of the technology to create webs based on their interests.

I reviewed several of the programmable webs from the 'popular recent mashups' category to see what was getting people's attention. I found a relatively wide variety of 'services' that these programs offered. Here's my feedback on a few:

Flowser is designed as a visual Amazon browser. The intention is for potential customers to type in their search term and be able to navigate the search results in the form of a web rather than the traditional listed results that Amazon searches currently give. While the novelty may attract some, I would rather type in search to Amazon and receive clear results. Flowser's results were not enjoyable to navigate; only a few fit on the screen and clicking the screen to move it around to browse all the results became tedious. The traditional Amazon search results are much easier to maneuver. Also, an entire section of the search results web had nothing to do with my search for 'Boer War,' listing a palm pilot, a wireless router, and other electronics.

Rentometre seems much more useful. It allows viewers to enter information about their rent; i.e. location and rent and compares it to other rentals in the area. Although there are other ways of comparing rent they are generally more labour intensive, i.e. searching listings for similar locations and accommodation or require access to realtors' databases. This site is a great example of how technology can be used as a tool to make things easier.

The Top 10 Highest Paid Business Women in America site was also interesting, though less useful due to the information is presented. The site plotted the location of the ten highest paid business women in America. As an aside, I think it is interesting that all but one (who is listed in New Jersey) of the women are located in California or New York. Though the site was clean and clear the information it was presenting was relatively simple, perhaps too simple to need a map to explain.

Blue Okapi was an interesting but not especially unique idea; it has a map of the globe with icons in areas where pictures were taken. As with Flowser, I found too little or poorly explained directions, making it difficult to benefit from all the functions the site offered. I don't really see the relevance of the site. Perhaps it could be improved by making sub-sites that focused on certain topics that would allow people around the world who shared an interest to communicate or meet. For example, several of the photos are of cats, maybe a site for cat-lovers to exchange information, photos...would give the site more focus and usefulness. Similarly, I think that this concept could be great as a travel site. Viewers could select places they would like to visit and see photos, advice, etc. from people who had been there.

As with many internet technologies, the programmable webs seem more linked to expressions of personality that creating useful systems for general consumption. This is logical; these webs likely take a great deal of time and effort that people are generally only likely to expend if they're interested in their project or getting paid. Rentometre was a good example of how these webs can be designed to be useful to a larger audience. I think programmable webs have a great potential for education. In history, webs could be used to make learning more interactive by having students use or create webs based on areas of historical interest to them.

 

Along Came a Spider...

This week I chose to look at the application of spiders to websites. I ran several of my favourite history websites through Search Engine Spider Simulator, the Backlink Anchor Text Analyzer and the Keyword Density Checker. I knew that spiders sought out keywords but I was surprised by how much content was lost through the process. The spidered text that was displayed listed only the main menu at most. For the victorianweb the spider listed only the small menu text on the side of the main page and ignored the large content menu that fills the main page.

The spidered text also frequently included largely irrelevant aspects of the site. For example the victorianweb spidered text referred to the University of Singapore twice in the five line site summary. The University of Singapore is one of the partner universities of the site, but this information is hardly the most pertinent that the site has to offer. There was a better chance to get some useful information by following the spidered links throughout the website; this took more time and gave less information than actually browsing the original site itself, raising the question: what was the purpose of using a spider?

The keyword density checker is interesting and does have potential but it encounters the same limitations as the spider search - it fails to incorporate the content of the site into its summary. The keyword cloud was an interesting visual way to illustrate the presence of terms; but the program is so inapplicable to relevant site material that it loses any value aside from asthetic. These programs are simply unable to discern relevant content information; I find them largely useless.

Also, as a personal bias, I do not like the inclusion of ads, by Google, on each page. While this would be more understandable or even possibly useful if the ads were for relevant items, as is the ads barely touch on relevancy to the site content. For example, on the spider's results of the victorianweb I was besieged with ads for Queens School of Business, Christmas tree ornaments, and DJ services.

 

Is the Sky Falling?

As I was doing the readings for this week I was struck by the same theme that permeates most of the articles on the topic of digital history and historians in the digital age: fear. Fear that somehow this new more accessible system of information will overwhelm and undermine the role of historians in this brave new world. Each week I have wondered if this is an alarmist position, similar perhaps to the 'sky is falling' cries of Y2K. Is it really possible that a new form of technology and communication, regardless of how revolutionary, can so radically displace our social systems? Will this process of the democratization of knowledge be looked back on as academic secularization? As religion moved out of churches, will knowledge and learning move out of universities and libraries?

Monday, October 23, 2006

 

Up the 'River' Without a Paddle

I originally planned to spend this week's activity on the 'Experimenting with Regular Expressions.' Several hours of frustration and questioning by intellect, or lack thereof and I moved on instead to the exercise on taglines. I thought I may be at a disadvantage since I came into the class after some tagline aspects had already been discussed and also because taglines seem to play a larger (i.e. existant) role in the Public History program.

Regardless, I really enjoyed looking at the different ways that taglines have been used. The most interesting part of the Micah Dubinko article was the links to other visual information sites including Map the the Market, The Shape of Song, and Moodstats. I did not find the article itself particularly interesting and several of the links he referenced did not work, making hard to fully understand his perspective.

In Flickr I found the 'river' visual too fast moving. Also, the pictures continued to move after I had paused the flow when the mouse hovered on them. In general I found the visual to be unclear and hard to follow. The 'waterfall; feature was more clear although still not very interesting visually, not because of lack of movement but because of the small photos.


I did find it interesting that the river observed tagline popularity changing with time, while the waterfall conversely focused on what tags stay the same. I think this shows the two major themes of general historical study and thought; in history are we studying change or continuity. Both I would say but the Flickr options certainly highlight the difference of one from the other.

Map of the Market was slow to load but very fast once up. It had a clear legend, good use of colour, and relevant variables to display. By float mouse on sections you get thorough information including earnings and financials. You can refine the visual by selecting criteria including: gainers, losers, and changing colour scheme. The program also has a search option which gives many categories once a company is found such as news, quotes, competition, earnings, and financial reports.

The Shape of Song
would especially be interesting for those with more musical knowledge. The site has clear instructions, is not cluttered, and you can upload your own songs via MIDI file to add to the repertoire. The explaination of how diagrams work/are created help to understand the process behind the visual expression of the songs. The Images Gallery option shows several songs, their diagram and an explanation for the visual further aiding the musically impaired understand the links between the audio and visual aspects of the song.

Moodstats let's you enter daily data, the incentive being it allows you to track your moods. The installation process is somewhat long ans although the homepage says you get it free for 20 days to 'synchronize' you need a purchased serial number. The settings for mood categories are not very interesting to me visually; it looks like audio adjustments with slide pointers than you move to reflect your mood in each category per day. The program is not always clear i.e. how to save data, nor does the dark screen maximise forcing some eye squinting. In the site's defence you can add notes in each category, per day. Overall though I'd rather a pen and paper.

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