Category Archives: Digital Tools

Crowdsourced Spatial Project Participation

Had I been asked to complete this project at the beginning of the first semester for the MA, I am inclined to believe that I may have had less reservations and been less concerned with the final user of the data created. This has kept me asking myself if the role that I am playing in this mapping work is worthwhile to the native people of the land being documented or whether the end goal for the project is purely profit capitalist global giants seeking to use the data as tool further wealth attainment. The idea of mapping roads, residential areas and rivers may seem like it can only aid those living in the location, but there are many repercussions far beyond what I possibly wish to consider. It is easy to say at this point I am really conflicted as to my role and future prospects for the areas in which I contribute.

I have used the Humanitarian Open Street Map to take part in this crowd-sourced project. I looked at and contributed to a number of projects, the first was the Missing Maps: Zambia Malaria Elimination Project 2581. This project aims to locate and document populated areas with a goal of providing disease control and eliminating malaria. The focus of the project in this case was to highlight and detail buildings with a focus on residential buildings. While roads are evident, it would appear that these do not require documenting at this time. On this project, I was able to contribute to the project along with 47 others.

Progress to date on Zambia Malaria Elimination Project 2581

The Open Street Map tools and platform itself is quite mundane, no effort has been made to make it visually appealing. It is a simple text rich system which focuses the user to take part in the project. I would have thought that there could possibly be more information made available as a background for the project, however the small bio gives a simple reasoning and then goes straight to getting you started. I must say I found the instructions quite frustrating and unhelpful. I did what I would normally do and headed straight to youtube for an instructional video. I found quite a few and they gave me a good idea of how to proceed with selecting an area and adding the details.

Zambia Malaria Elimination Project 2581 Tile View
Zambia Malaria Elimination Project 2581 Progress
Zambia Malaria Elimination Project 2581 – Val
Zambia Malaria Elimination Project 2581 – Zoom

This project has brought out a conspiracy theorist in me and has made me somewhat skeptical of ‘humanitarian good’. While contributing I felt uneasy and I kept returning to an article I read about the Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe stating that Water is not a fundamental right to anyone. Is the work we contribute in places in Africa a simple exercise to document the future consumers who will have their lands taken from them to be used for profit, denied a human right to water and instead made pay a Corporation for it?

I cannot seem to make peace with these projects. I have always considered myself to be a optimistic person willing to help anyone in need, including those in impoverished or developing countries, but I find that this work, carried out by faceless project leaders without a defined end user ownership of data to be worrying. It is not something that I feel I could hold my head up and say: I feel that I have benefited the native people.

I wanted to look closer to home to see if there were changes that I may be able to make in my own locality. Using OpenStreetMaps.ie I was able to look at the areas documented near to my residence. I found that it was heavily edited and most things seemed correct. There were some items documented, I felt incorrectly, and when I decided to edit them I found that the classification didn’t meet the Irish criteria. I spent quite a long time trying to classify a particular road as a ‘Boreen’. The term Boreen, as you can imagine is not one of the road classifications. Therefore I was unable to edit it. What I did find that the part of that road I did reclassify as ‘pedestrian only’ was met with challenge. I was contacted by another OSM user and asked why I had made the changes and whether I felt they were correct. This contact actually gave me some reassurance that people in the area have ownership of their work (on OSM) and is willing to challenge those looking to edit it. Ireland, from what I could see is heavily documented by what looks like local OSM contributors, which is fantastic as there are elements, such as folklore areas and areas of local interest which would not otherwise be documented on a map.

Exported Data from OSM – Text format

While I found OSM a bit tedious to use, Mapswipe was somewhat more engaging. I found that using this gave an almost gaming element where you were ’Thanked’ for carrying out the work as you went, so felt that you were making a difference and also it seemed to have gaming levels encouraging you to complete more work to achieve higher grading. The process, as the name suggests was simple, you swiped and marked those areas, in my case, with buildings. I felt less pressured to doubt myself using this application. With OSM, I felt that if I made a mistake the validator would almost chastise me.

With Mapswipe it was a freer process. While I was still concerned of the final user data ownership, I felt that the ease of use gave me momentum to complete far more tiles that OSM. I took great pleasure in documenting Madagascan land, which had complete cloud cover. I felt I was contributing by marking these areas as cloud cover and yet I didn’t feel I was actively taking part in any possible future planned misuse of data. Mapswipe feeds into a far better user experience. There is an extrinsic motivation to carry out the documenting; the more you do the higher ranking you achieve.

I feel that I have taken away a very negative experience of contributing to these projects. My contribution was definitely overshadowed by the possibility of future use by evildoers. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, had this assignment taken place at the beginning of semester one I may have dived straight into the activity without much thought and feel that I was being altruistic in the role that I was playing. However, having read and taken part in many discussions surrounding the topic of data use and collection, I am less likely to take part in projects where the organization is located within countries likely to use the data compiled for invasion or profit attainment.

While conducting research into the area of crowd sourcing I did find some great material, which seemed to fit into the debate I was having internally.

A TedTalk: A New power of Collaboration by Howard Rheingold (author of Smart Mobs) looks at the concept of the ‘Prisoners Dilemma’: Two game players who do not trust each other, one has the goods, one has the money. Neither is going to be the one to make the transaction, both will be losers. I immediately made ties to this idea when completing the task of contributing data into an unknown (via Mapswipe and OSM). In my scenario I am the contributor or person with the goods, the other game player is the native people as well as fear and the unknown. I am unwilling to make the transaction happen due to the fear of the unknown (what the data could be used for in the future) and the fear is unable to provide me with any assurances. We are both losers, I lose because I have a skill and access which could possibly allow me to make the lives of those living in remote villages somewhat better, these villagers lose because I have a fear for their future and the this fear is not lessened in anyway by the project developers hiding behind very concerning terms and conditions which veto many of the laws protecting us in our home countries.

Further research into collaborative projects using crowd sourcing brought me to CAPTCHA’s creator, Luis Von Ahn’s talk on Massive-Scale online collaboration

In his presentation he talks about how a simple tool developed to prevent computer program manipulation of form submission on websites has now evolved to become so much more. Originally the CAPTCHA process saw random characters populated for the human viewer to decipher. Von Ahn and his team saw the possibilities present for a collaborative project, which would provide so much more than just a verification device. His team began to take scanned printed books and have the CAPTCHA verification software populate the characters and words which the computer software could not read. These words populated alongside random words and when a number of the same responses for the printed words returned the same answer, confirmed by human classification, the word was accepted as being a particular set of characters or word. This simple redirection to include a purpose has meant that millions f books every year are digitized. This work has happened in most cases where the human verifying the characters assumes it is just to grant access to the website their aiming to access. This is a crowd sourcing project I can whole heartedly get behind. I have considered how the data gathered (completed digital books) maybe used for wrong doing and I am yet to come up with any reason why this does not benefit humanity, by providing access to former printed materials in a digital form.

Carto.com – Interactive mapping & metadata application

I have been looking at tools that will allow me to create my digital platform and I found  carto.com. This platform builder and interactive map interface looks like it maybe a strong contender for the system that I want to create. It has the metadata functionality that I hope to include and it allows the user to interact with the information being displayed.

My project aims to document and geotag all Public Art in Ireland. I want the general public, artists, historian, students, teachers, families etc to be able to go to a single platform and gain access to information on their doorstep, without having to dredge through multiple dead links, blogs and various council databases. Looking at the Carto Builder and its functionality, I believe that this maybe the tool to help me achieve my idea. I am conscious that I have my project completely defined prior to choosing the final tool, as I want the project to be defined by the end goal and ideas and not by the limitations of any specific tool.

I have been using Neatline with Omega as part of my collaborative project and I find it quite easy to add content and to use. I haven’t yet tried to stylise the layouts using CSS, but I am sure that I will be able to use it as part of my project idea. At this point, I am becoming familiar with all the tools that I am being introduced to and finding out how they work, their functionality and whether they may be something that I can use when completing my own digital platform. With Neatline,and Omega, the metadata functionality is great, I can add the information and it is stored on the system but can be displayed to the audience if needed. This is something that I had not considered prior to looking at these tools and it is something I believe might at value to the content that I add it the platform. I also quite like the timeline function with Neatline as it is something very relevant to Public Art in Ireland and the historical data.

The Exhibition and Collection functionality in Omeka may be a great way for classifying and categorising the content also. It would be great to be able to add the multiple Public Artworks created by individual artists, or categorise in collections the works by county/location.  Also, as my project concept looks to include not just public roadside art, but also historical Art such as the Stone Crosses or Heritage sites, I would like to be able to create collections or exhibitions of these ones by era.

I also need to consider as my digital platform evolves, whether the software that I use will allow my content to be converted easily to a mobile app version or whether this will need to be created separately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating iBooks & ePubs

iBooks and ePublications have grown massively popular in the past number of years. With businesses such as Amazon Kindle and Apple Store giving readers immediate access to new releases, older no longer in print publications its easy to see why. Smart phone & tabletThose interested in reading in digital formats will in most instances have a tablet, smart phone or device which they use daily. By creating a format to have their chosen reading material to hand, digital reading has become the norm. No one wants to lug about huge hardback versions of the book or novel that they are currently reading on the train to work, Why would they?, when they have a small, light,  hand held device which serves so many purposes other than as a book.

The growth of the digital platform for reading materials has open even more areas for businesses to gain information on their customers. Businesses can now track their customers areas of literary interest and suggest similar materials for them to purchase. While this may form part of an echo chamber where readers will only stay within their interests, it may also expose those less likely to browse other areas to other reading materials. This ‘suggestion’ model gives the business huge insight into their reader, and if they also sell other items online other than digital reading materials, then it is likely that they will build a user profile based on the materials searched and begin to target the user with ads based on the system algorithms.

It may not all be so dark and murky though, these online platform have developed into a virtual coffee shop where virtual book clubs can engage, comment share and review digital books.

MiseryIt also gives the authors a place to interact with their readers and take the feedback being collected in the forums and comments being left. Digital readers have easy, immediate access to their peers and authors, which may not have been previously available.

Digital reading has its faults, but also has its be wins.  I am a huge fan of printed books, I love the tactile nature of older books, their smell, the aged tears and folds of the paper, and the ability to feel the imprint that the ink has made on the paper when I run my hand over it. I am also a big fan of the planet, so I appreciate that the digital conversion of printed materials can only lead to less paper being needed and less trees being cut down. So while i like older book nostalgia, I am more enamoured with the idea that we are slowly moving towards a greener planet.Digital Saves Trees

Digital reading hasn’t been embraced fully by all cultures. This article ‘The beautiful Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas eve’ by Steven Bissonette talks about the romanticism of gift giving and the idea that a book, a physical book is something to be treasured. The Icelandic people (where 1 in 10 people are published authors) maintain the tradition of book giving to be read on Christmas eve,

My Digital Books-  ePub & iBook

I had previously worked for Apple and as part of a project, I developed an Apple Camp Program where younger children  (aged 6 to 12) would come to the Apple Campus and create iBooks based on their own stories and drawings. The idea was simple, the children wrote their story, then created drawings to depict scenes. They used a simple drawing application and then once this was complete, they used iBooks Author to create their interactive books. The application allowed then to add sound effect, moving imagery and allowed the user to engage with the piece.  What most interested me with this project was the ease with which the young children grasped the concept and ran with it. They had no fear of making mistakes, they knew their stories and therefore could apply the material to the book without concern or approval.

Now as a secondary school Art teacher, I have my older student create iBooks and ePubs ( as well as powerpoint presentations) as part of  their art history curriculum. These tasks not only give the student a place to store their learning but it also gives them technical skills and exposure to new digital applications. The learning begins with them having to research the materials that they will use, then figuring out how the applications work, adding the materials and fine tuning it to their own styles, then presenting the material to their classmates. It gives them an understanding of the material which they can show through peer teaching.

My own iBook  and ePub I have kept simple. I have used the main idea for my research topic and added a title, heading and some images. I do hope to create a full version by the end of the MA as I feel it will be an important part of my digital portfolio.

I found the iBook Author very easy to use, it has a simple drag and drop functionality with doesn’t require any coding to edit or stylise it. The ePub was a little more difficult. For this task we used Calibre It uses HTML and allows you to finalise detail using code. ePubs allow those without a Mac to access ePublications. With iBooks only those of you with Apple devices will be able to read them in the format in which they are created.

I am unable to add my iBook here due to formatting issues so I have included some screen shots.

Front Page
Chapter One
Page 1
Page 2

My  ePub 

When I saved the ePub originally using Calibre it did have formatted cover text, however, as my computer is now using iBooks to open the document, it appears that the cover text has been removed.

XML – What? Uses? Importance?

The essence of XML is in its name: Extensible Markup Language.

Tom Myer in his piece A Really, Really, Really Good Introduction to XML breaks down XML as the following:

Extensible

XML is extensible. It lets you define your own tags, the order in which they occur, and how they should be processed or displayed. Another way to think about extensibility is to consider that XML allows all of us to extend our notion of what a document is: it can be a file that lives on a file server, or it can be a transient piece of data that flows between two computer systems (as in the case of Web Services).

Markup

The most recognisable feature of XML is its tags, or elements (to be more accurate). In fact, the elements you’ll create in XML will be very similar to the elements you’ve already been creating in your HTML documents. However, XML allows you to define your own set of tags.

Language

XML is a language that’s very similar to HTML. It’s much more flexible than HTML because it allows you to create your own custom tags.

I found that MXL was a simple concept and I needed to be sure that the simplicity that I understood, was not me simply misunderstanding the whole concept. To confirm what I understood to be correct, I decided to read some articles, look at the uses online and watch some tutorial videos explaining more about XML. The one above I found easy to understand and it gave me further understanding of the physical act of writing of XML.

 

Why XML is important ?

In his article ‘What is XML and Why Should Companies Use It?’,  Alan Pelz-Sharpe speaks about how technology in business has become relatively cheep, so smaller home based businesses an now compete on a larger playing filed, however it stresses the need for these businesses to consider and to use XML from the off. The XML data management system is something that must be at the foundation of data management in all businesses or systems using data management, Smaller businesses who do not store or categorise their data correctly run the risk of losing information which may be necessary to their income. Customer data not categorised correctly can in some cases lose the business owner valuable marketing and contact information.

 

My XML Learning Task

As I don’t feel that I have enough content to manage and categorise yet, I chose to take a favourite book of mine and see how i would go about giving it some categorisation structure using XML. The following shows the Author, publisher, title and book description. These are identifiers that I have chosen to categorise the book. The identifiers are very basic and used by many online selling platforms worldwide.

<book>

<author>”Douglas Adams”</author>
<title>”The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”</title>
<genre>Scifi</genre>
<publish_date>1979-10-12</publish_date>
<description>Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.</description>
</book>

 

I have used an XML Validator to check whether my xml language has been written correctly: CodeBeauty

XML test

and it works!

Development of HTML

Development of HTML

HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. This is the basic format for the scripting language that is used to construct the Web. In 1980, physicist Tim Berners-Lee, then a contractor at CERN, proposed and prototyped ENQUIRE, a system for CERN researchers to use and share documents. In 1989, Berners-Lee wrote a memo proposing an Internet-based hypertext system. Berners-Lee specified HTML and wrote the browser and server software in late 1990

HTML defines the structure and layout of a Web document by using a variety of tags and attributes. HTML describes the structure of a web page semantically and originally included cues for the appearance of the document.

HTML elements are the building blocks of HTML pages. With HTML constructs, images and other objects, such as interactive forms may be embedded into the page. It provides a means to create structured documents with structural semantics for text such as headings, paragraphs, lists, links, quotes and other items. HTML elements are delineated by tags, written using angle brackets.

Tags such as <img /> and <input /> introduce content into the page directly. Others such as <p>…</p> surround and provide information about document text and may include other tags as sub-elements. Browsers do not display the HTML tags, but use them to interpret the content of the page.

CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. It is a style sheet language used to describe the design elements of the websites such as the layout, color, font size, etc. It can allow multiple pages to share the same formatting.

My HTML & CSS Task

html-css-doc

File has been saved to: http://www.w3schools.com/code/tryit.asp?filename=FAN97STLHU9P

HTML is something that has haunted me. Coding languages have always made my palms sweat and I have found myself running for the hills when it came to evening trying to understand what they were, let alone try to understand how to use them. HTML is very much a ‘learn by doing’ language. You cannot simply learn of the elements by rote learning, once you figure the fundamental basics that a system must have an open bracket sequence and a closed bracket sequence then you are half way there.

I can see full the logic behind Tim Berners-Lee’s insistence and requirement that a single web language be created. If every developer decided to create their own web language we would have multiple online platforms existing in isolation without any ability to communicate with each other. The other aspect would be the need for multiple operating systems which would need to be able to read and interact with each language created. From an early step in his web creation concept, Berners-Lee realised the importance of a single language to unify all users globally.

My usage of HTML at present is more fine tuning of webpages than it is creating them from scratch. I am able to format the text into multiple structures and layouts. Much like laying out a word document in simple format.  I am able to edit existing web structures to suit my own needs.

I have also began to play with the styling of my webpages and have found CSS great way of doing this. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. It is a style sheet language used to describe the design elements of the websites such as the layout, color, font size, etc. It can allow multiple pages to share the same formatting. While i am still wading my way through HTML, I found that CSS can be a little tricky to tackle. HTML is easier to use for light, while CSS requires more patience and dedication. I have been able to change the text colour, the Heading background colour without too much difficulty. However, changing the entire background colour of the webpage has proved more difficult. I found that I was trying to enter the code across the whole document as if felt that this is logically where it should go, but through using tutorials such as W3Schools, I am now able to see specific examples of text placement and usage and able to see where I am going wrong.

Shorty.com Digital Artefact

Shorty.com

Digital artefacts are the foundations of our online world. Every website is a story telling tool with a function to preserve, document or showcase something. While I love many websites and online media, I kept coming back to shorpy.com This website is something which hosts millions of really high-resolution photographs documenting the contributors past. These are photographs previously unseen by the public and held in the Library of Congress archives.

The website itself, is simple layout and format with focus heavily set on the photographs. The user can easily navigate the site without issue. This archive gives more than just a quick glimpse into times gone past, it gives the viewer High Definition images that shows minute detail moment in time that the photograph was taken. It details the scene itself, from the close up of cobbles stones and to the people in high-rise building behind net curtains in their homes. The access this gives to today’s viewer is incredible. A written historical document may only tell part of a story, while the photography in high resolution with full zoom ability goes the viewer huge volumes of credible information. This is Information that can be read without bias. It simply is what it is. The viewer is given an unobjectionable position allowing them to really explore the data that the photograph holds, an ability to extract a story from the information available to them.

The images themselves were most likely taken at a time when preservation for future generations wasn’t a concept or necessity. The photos cover areas of everyday life from over 100 years ago. The information included in the photographs is a rich tapestry with every viewer taking something different away from it. What I like most about the photographs is that a large number of them were candid and not posed. They are examples of real life as it took place. The photos document machinery, vehicles, buildings, structures etc. The Shorpy platform gives any historian an amazing treasure throve of resources to dive into. It is said that for history to be relevant, it not only has to be accessible, but detailed enough that it feels alive. This website allows viewers to become immersed in their subject matter. The value is immeasurable. This public image library has huge value.

This library has sparked further digitization by present generations. Animators have taken the photographs and created a glimpse of life through motion picture. The following are Vimeo videos showcase the works of the original photographers as well as the work of the present day animators as storytellers.

The Shorpy.com website has also provided a platform for public collaboration and engagement. The comments section gives voice to those who may have context or information on the photographs and provides the viewers with a forum to discuss, reminisce and inform.

There are many other websites that host collections of historical photos, many like https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/sets/72157603671370361/ have focused on specific eras with photos reworked and enhanced to have a full colour output. These images too are from the Library of Congress, yet they do not have the high resolution, high definition and zoom abilities that Shorpy.com is best known for.

Palmer, Alfred T.,, photographer.

As Flickr hosts the images, it doesn’t provide for the same open accessibility or collaborative interactions as Shorpy does. Flickr simply provides a gallery space to showcase the photos but nowhere is there a place to add context or background. This human interaction and connection is something that I feel is necessary in order for any digital artifact to be successful. After all, why are we creating online platforms, which do not educate, inform, or give a space for interaction between the humanities to take place.

The main reason that I have enjoyed and engage with this digital platform so much is simply down to the fact that this is simply a huge collection of historical data, which has been published for the world to see. Published for every digital architect, every digital archaeologist every storyteller to delve into and give a voice to.

Digital Artefacts

Shorty.com

Digital artefacts are the foundations of our online world. Every website is a story telling tool with a function to preserve, document or showcase something. While I love many websites and online media, I kept coming back to shorpy.com This website is something which hosts millions of really high-resolution photographs documenting the contributors past. These are photographs previously unseen by the public and held in the Library of Congress archives.

The website itself, is simple layout and format with focus heavily set on the photographs. The user can easily navigate the site without issue. This archive gives more than just a quick glimpse into times gone past, it gives the viewer High Definition images that shows minute detail moment in time that the photograph was taken. It details the scene itself, from the close up of cobbles stones and to the people in high-rise building behind net curtains in their homes. The access this gives to today’s viewer is incredible. A written historical document may only tell part of a story, while the photography in high resolution with full zoom ability goes the viewer huge volumes of credible information. This is Information that can be read without bias. It simply is what it is. The viewer is given an unobjectionable position allowing them to really explore the data that the photograph holds, an ability to extract a story from the information available to them.

 

The images themselves were most likely taken at a time when preservation for future generations wasn’t a concept or necessity. The photos cover areas of everyday life from over 100 years ago. The information included in the photographs is a rich tapestry with every viewer taking something different away from it. What I like most about the photographs is that a large number of them were candid and not posed. They are examples of real life as it took place. The photos document machinery, vehicles, buildings, structures etc. The Shorpy platform gives any historian an amazing treasure throve of resources to dive into. It is said that for history to be relevant, it not only has to be accessible, but detailed enough that it feels alive. This website allows viewers to become immersed in their subject matter. The value is immeasurable. This public image library has huge value.

 

This library has sparked further digitization by present generations. Animators have taken the photographs and created a glimpse of life through motion picture. The following are Vimeo videos showcase the works of the original photographers as well as the work of the present day animators as storytellers.

 

 

The Shorpy.com website has also provided a platform for public collaboration and engagement. The comments section gives voice to those who may have context or information on the photographs and provides the viewers with a forum to discuss, reminisce and inform.

 

There are many other websites that host collections of historical photos, many like https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/sets/72157603671370361/ have focused on specific eras with photos reworked and enhanced to have a full colour output. These images too are from the Library of Congress, yet they do not have the high resolution, high definition and zoom abilities that Shorpy.com is best known for.

Palmer, Alfred T.,, photographer.

As Flickr hosts the images, it doesn’t provide for the same open accessibility or collaborative interactions as Shorpy does. Flickr simply provides a gallery space to showcase the photos but nowhere is there a place to add context or background. This human interaction and connection is something that I feel is necessary in order for any digital artifact to be successful. After all, why are we creating online platforms, which do not educate, inform, or give a space for interaction between the humanities to take place.

 

The main reason that I have enjoyed and engage with this digital platform so much is simply down to the fact that this is simply a huge collection of historical data, which has been published for the world to see. Published for every digital architect, every digital archaeologist every storyteller to delve into and give a voice to.