Stumbling Across the Finish Line in a Daze

April 22nd, 2012

All uploaded, all edited, all decorated — all done!

Well, at least the website is done for Dr. McClurken’s perusal. Group members went through a marathon of editing and site tweaking over the past several days. If the walls of the Digital Media Lab could only talk… oh, the stories it would tell! There was a lot of grinding away at proofreading, editing, adding needed details and pictures, and structuring for five hours without break, two days in a row. There was some discussion about rubber duckies, some “sprawling” was done, giggle fits were quelled, and general madness reigned.  People went a little loopy from staring at computer screens, but loopiness in the service of history seems noble enough to excuse the madness. It was incredibly productive overall, so the effort was worthwhile.

For the final editing stages, I made an appointment with the Writing Center on Friday and went over the site with a professional. It turned out to be the summer director of the Writing Center, so she had been with the school long enough to know a handful of the people the buildings were named for and it was a delight to hear her own stories. If we continue this project later, or if another group picks it up, than I would like to see about getting personal accounts of these people and buildings from experienced faculty. The lady mostly helped polish the grammar and readability aspects, but she reacted favorably to the site navigation and especially liked the quality of the pictures the group took.

The group began posting our fliers, but the rain dissuaded me from doing so. I plan on putting mine up in my residence hall and waiting until the weather is more clear so they have a better chance of surviving until the symposium.

And even more project updates, I finally heard back from the Office of Admissions. Apparently, my previous email got lost in some interdepartmental delegation confusion, but the lady who replied was very helpful. She was on the road at the time and mentioned she might use our site while she’s visiting other schools and while Admissions’ virtual tour is still in the works.

Enter the end-of-the-semester daze now.


Oh, and I mastered the art of finding HTML codes, copying them, and tweaking the final product to make pictures work on the site’s widgets. Victory!

Post-Presentation Stress Disorder

April 17th, 2012

So…the presentations at the Research and Creativity day went well. My only regret is forgetting the camera at home and being unable to record the presentation for digital portfolios. We all had smooth transitions and the audience (the five that weren’t in our class) seemed particularly intrigued by our projects, as our group theorized was due to the more physical and emotional connection people have with the campus information. I missed a couple of the interesting facts I meant to include, but now they’ll be fresh and interesting when I use them at the Symposium. Practice, practice, practice.

All my research, citations, and photos are up on the site, which is a load off. Now, my primary task is editing and proofreading with Sam and Kay for the final due date next week. Sam is optimistic that we will have a final version of the site by Friday, which would certainly be ideal if we can meet that deadline.

If library books had a “ctrl+F” function I would be deliriously happy

March 26th, 2012

Before reading or watching anything for this week, I first had to look-up “text mining” and “n-grams.” I attempted to read without doing so and became lost immediately. I’m not sure I understand, but I believe text mining has something to do with organizing information on websites to make it easier for the text to be searched by search engines. N-grams were an ever greater mystery and I can only conclude they are somehow associated with the text organizing. I have come to the conclusion that Dr. McClurken put those terms on the syllabus to be intimidating.

My response to the Google video was a resounding “…what?” The comments alone were intimidating because of their writers’ evident knowledge on an issue I listened to with great pain. After skimming through the video, I’m not sure what I was supposed to get out of it, other than to be once again reminded that I am not technologically adept. My best guess is that it was talking about how Google translates foreign languages for its users. I think someone with linguistic training would have better understood the language alignment he kept talking about.

The same confusion followed for the Babel article on data mining, Digital History Hacks, and Dan Cohen’s blog. However, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” was clearer, while the site on Mining the Dispatch and “Applying Quantitative Analysis to Classic Lit” were helpful examples of the text mining and digital history connection. As someone who was too young to research before the internet, I cannot clearly see how the internet might have changed the way we read and view material. I can, however, identify with the way the author describes how he now views material. (See post title.) By the end of the article, I couldn’t tell if the author was trying to warn the readers about not letting our mental processes be consumed by mechanical thought, or if he was simply foretelling an inevitably dire future.

Hassan Made It Look Easy

March 20th, 2012

Normal ink and paper resumes are difficult. Figuring out the balance between showing professionalism and showing personality is a challenge.

Building attractive websites is difficult. For those without much experience, navigating the ins and outs of web design, templates, widgets, and digital beauty is a challenge.

Designing a strong resume and portfolio on an aesthetically pleasing website is just painful. I tried experimenting with themes to make the routine WordPress format more attractive, but I kept losing the tools I wanted, like a custom header and menus. I cannot decide if it is okay to add other pictures (besides my senior photo) to the site, or if that would take away the professionalism. I thought it might be amusing to add a couple zombie pictures, or at least zombie film posters, to the portfolio. Or pictures of my schools to the education tab, but decided against all of it in my uncertainty.


I Want to Be Amish

March 19th, 2012

Dr. Brian Alexander, the esteemed traveling professor that visited our class earlier in the day, delivered an incredibly imaginative lecture on the future of technology in higher education classrooms. Lecture is too stuffy a word for Dr. Alexander, who kept up a running Twitter feed during the talk and frequently broke from his speech to chat with the audience and get immediate feedback. It made sense for him to address the audience in this style, because a theme of Dr. Alexander’s speech was about the evolving nature of learning and its increasingly interactive, digital nature.

The four possible futures he outlined were rather terrifying to me, though. All but one of the examples projected a rather cold, heavily internet-based form of human interactions, if such a digital medium can really be classified as human interaction without any physical interaction.All the scenarios asked us to imagine life 20 years from now and the first was called Phantom Learning. It involved the idea of schools being rare, but information being plentiful, with education being completely online. The second, The Lost Decade, was a depressing look towards a future where we never recovered from our present economic slump. The third one, and my favorite, was call alt.Residential and seemed the most balanced, relying on blended learning and creating physical structures that are alluring by being intensely unique. The final scenario was the Renaissance, a heavily “gamified” world where learning is frequently done through games and we go through a golden age of digital creativity.

What I realized from Dr. Alexander’s talk is that new technologies are in an ocean of opportunity. There are many levels of technological proficiency, just like there are many sizes of fish in the ocean, some goldfish, some sharks. And I am not even a minnow. I am some sort of technological plankton, not even technologically savvy enough to be a fish.

GoogleEarth: Worldwide Awesome?

February 6th, 2012

I think my internet connection was too slow to really use GoogleEarth this weekend, but I did give it a painful 15 minutes to try and make some sense out of it. It took a third of that time for just one address to completely manifest with the tools. An optimal connection really is a must, the tech presenter was not exaggerating about that. However, I’ve used it before, and my previous impressions were favorable. This was before they had the street view, which I hope to try when I get a better connection. If I was awed 4 years ago, I’m sure I’d be blown away now.

GoogleMaps is something I’ve used before when MapQuest is being sketchy. Building a map with just this tool’s features was still slow, given my parent’s wifi. It took awhile for the system to follow my mouse when I tried mapping from my house to Fredericksburg. I’m not sure these features are that useful for the Buildings group, but that may just be my trying time experimenting with it influencing the ay I see it. I believe others want to use it, but given that all the campus buildings are on a small plot of land, I’m not sure why such vast tools as GoogleMaps and GoogleEarth are necessary.

Zotero, Omeka, and a Lack of Creativity

January 30th, 2012

I’m afraid I fail the “think creatively” exercise for this week. Zotero, RSS feeds, and Omeka all appear one-dimensional to me and only fulfill the purposes outlined in the presentation. I also have a vendetta against Zotero for causing me a great deal of anguish during my senior thesis research, wasting my time on more than one occasion. That could have been because it requires Firefox and I dislike that service. On a positive note, I have discovered Google Reader to be just simple enough to appeal to a technologically-stunted person like myself. I’ve actually added some personal sites to it and I’ve been delighted with its organized manner. As for blogs, I’ve recently been toying with one based of off umwblogs for personal use, since I fancy the idea of having my completed senior thesis available for people to search and find with Google. In hindsight, it might have been useful to have a blog about it while I was actually writing the darn thing.

Regarding the websites, I liked the thumbnail organization of the Famous Trials site, but I wish they would made it appear less stark. The Southern History Database was a train wreck, with most of the links not working. It was way too plain and had a system that showed they really meant to be helpful, which only made their failure in that regard more pitiable. The French Revolution site was on of the better examples I viewed and would have been ideal if the proportions had been right, instead of only taking up a quarter of the screen. UVA’s Civil War site was probably the best overall, for content and organization. The floor map they used seemed like something our group was hoping to do for the buildings site.

For the actual project, I’ve encountered difficulties getting into the Media Lab Dr. McClurken mentioned. Yes, I recall he said we shouldn’t try getting in for a couple weeks, but I had to try anyway. A friend of mine said she could get in, so I thought it had been fixed, but it appears to just work for a few people. For group delegation, I’m currently focused on biographies for the people the campus buildings are named for, which is more challenging than I would have thought. There are many people with the same name in the school’s history and I can’t always be certain which is the correct figure. For a couple of the academic buildings, I’ve had success emailing professors from other departments and many of them knew whom they’d been named for.

Just Another Introduction

January 23rd, 2012

[insert cliche greeting here]

So, I’m Cammy, a senior History major (surprise!) and I’m in the UMW buildings group. The group projects were actually my main motivation for taking Digital History. Technology and I have a long history (pun intended) of distrust and lack of cooperation. I don’t have a Facebook page and pretty much just use my computer for Word, e-mail, research when the library falls short, and to feed my addiction to Minesweeper. In addition to my fascination with the buildings project, I figured during my last semester I just needed to suck it up and learn a thing or two about using digital media in combination with research. Who knows, I might have to use one of these new fangled computer things at a job in the future.

Our group is already making plans to meet with a Historic Preservation expert for leads on the UMW buildings. I’m currently trying to track down an official copy of the current “Master Plan” for campus renovation that is ongoing, believing that it is necessary to not only include the history of the buildings, but their fate as well.