Monthly Archives: April 2009

Elegant web navigation with Skimmer and Cooliris

As opposed to services that make web research more in-depth like Worio, Skimmer simplifies multiple useful web services in an easy and elegant user interface. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and Blogger are all integrated in a single, simple feed, allowing you to keep tabs on all 5 simultaneously in one window or widget on your screen. Additionally, you can upload videos or pictures to YouTube or Flickr, or change your status on Twitter and Facebook, all within this program. (To do this, Skimmer uses Adobe AIR, which must be downloaded as well.) It may seem that Skimmer allows you to waste time more efficiently, but if these services are being used by a professor to interact with his or her students, or by students collaborating on a project, then Skimmer would improve productivity and cooperation.

Another elegant tool is Cooliris, which allows users to see images and video in an interactive environment resembling a wall. These images can be files from many supported sites, including Google Images, or from the user’s computer. Cooliris could be used, as has been done by Duke, as a way to browse digital resources in a library. Additionally, Cooliris could be used in lectures, especially art history lectures, since it’s instantly so much more engaging and open-ended than PowerPoint. And since the files are already on the presenter’s computer, the PowerPoint presentation doesn’t need to be created beforehand–the files just need to be in the right folder, and that folder needs to be opened by Cooliris. One problem with this use would be that the user interface, although very smooth and intuitive, is a bit more involved than simply clicking a button. However, what can be gained by integrating Cooliris into a lecture is seamless transition between media on the computer and media on the Internet, as well as the ability to sort through a lot of media easily, allowing for non-linear presentations of videos and images. Moreover, on the Cooliris blog, they explain ways to use the PicLens Powerpoint plug-in just for this purpose. This makes an HTML document and with the associated directories, which can be opened locally through a web browser or placed on the Internet. (KeyNote users have to save the slides as jpegs and then make the presentation using PicLens Publisher.)

Howard Besser on Copyright

Yesterday Pam Patterson and I attended a talk on Copyright issues at Sterling Memorial Library given by Howard Besser, Professor of Cinema Studies and Director of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program. The talk was very comprehensive. Professor Besser did an excellent job of examining changes to copyright law over the years, mounting restrictions to and encroachments on fair use, and the numerous “gotchas” inherent in the laws as they are currently written (you can copy a portion of a digital medium according to fair use, but you cannot break its encryption). For a more detailed treatment of the topic, please refer to Professor Besser’s Power Point Presentation:

Howard Besser’s Copyright Talk for Yale

Worio makes searching fuzzier

Google’s search algorithms have made research more and more exact, which can often get in the way of initial research. The first few pages of results from searching “existentialism” will provide you with dozens of introductory definitions and encyclopedia articles, but what if you want stuff around the edges? You may click through the links on Wikipedia until you’ve made your way to Norman Mailer’s article in The Nation on Sartre’s God Problem, but Worio provides you with this digression from the outset.

The reason you might find Worio helpful is the same reason why Wikipedia has become so popular: it encourages exploration and digression. Through their algorithms, the developers at Worio have tried to integrate that digression into the initial process of searching by offering related clouds of ideas, clouds which you can peruse and pursue. So if you ever find yourself beginning your research with inadequately specific searches like “existentialism,” this is a helpful tool. It’s sort of like the search equivalent of a thesaurus, giving you slightly different alternatives that you might find a better fit for what you really want.

Worio is very easy to use as well. Enter your search term at worio.com and choose the main search engine you would like to use (Google is the default). On the left you will see that engine’s results, and on the right you will see three Worio searches using three different collections of related subjects, each of which can be explored further. Worio also offers users the ability to log in, so that general interests and saved pages can be used to make the algorithm work better. In this regard, Worio also works like a social bookmarking site, similar to Delicious. (These two sites can be synced with each other, and Worio can be synced with Facebook as well.)

For those who frequently search the web for specific leads, or for those who find search engines to be too literal for their preliminary research, Worio is likely to be a worthwhile tool.

Movies, Movies Everywhere

With the recent collapse of Cdigix, Yale is now without a method of streaming full-length copyrighted material to its students. As a History TF, I use many films, audio clips, and images in the classroom and find it extremely frustrating that I cannot make full-length films and documentaries available to my students to view on their own time. Although Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a complicated legal minefield, I hope we can find a solution in the near future that does not require students to fight over the last copy of a film in the library or to pack into some obscure classroom at an awkward time for a mandatory group screening. A DRM protocol such as that used by iTunes (basically an encrypted mp4 container) or even MS Silverlight (which powers the immensely popular Netflix video-on-demand service) might work. Some commercial sites, such as Hulu, seem to have negotiated contracts with various TV and movie studios to provide their content for free using Adobe Flash, and it may be possible to adapt this model to a university setting. Of course, students would have to log-in to view any copyrighted material.

In the meantime, I have located a number of websites that offer historically-oriented films that can be used for both research and teaching. American History in Video provides over 1,260 historical films and documentaries (some of them quite good, some of them not so good). The video quality ranges from tolerable to excruciatingly bad, but the ability to cut out clips and edit them together into separate playlists is fantastic and should be emulated by other sites. Although not the easiest site to navigate, The Internet Archive hosts a large number of public domain and open-source movies. Finally, the American Memory site run by the Library of Congress boasts a small, but useful collection of vintage films. Their collection of cartoons from the early 1900s is especially fascinating.

History Bytes: Some Thoughts on the Future of Digital History

Historical scholars are not a group typically associated with cutting-edge technology. Many of the historians I know are not particularly eager (or even interested) to embrace the latest innovations in digital research and pedagogy. But, especially as older historians pass their batons to a younger generation of “digital natives,” this is starting to change. A recent exchange between a number of leading scholars conducted by the Journal of American History shows just how robust digital history has become over the past five or ten years and the great potential for new and exciting projects. But what will the future of digital history look like?

Although some academics worry that digital scholarship will be ignored by hiring committees and tenure review boards and is therefore a pointless endeavor, groups like the American Association for History and Computing (AAHC) have begun to issue guidelines for considering digital history projects as serious scholarly work (which, of course, they are). Historians William Turkel and Alan MacEachern have even published a peer-reviewed book/wiki entitled The Programming Historian to help novice scholars utilize cutting-edge digital tools in their research and teaching.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the advent of “crowdsourcing” sites such as Footnote is greatly expanding both the scope and content of historical study. In the sciences, some journals are starting to require a peer-reviewed Wikipedia entry as part of their standard publication process. And it is not entirely inconceivable that one day historians, too, will be encouraged to publish open, peer-reviewed material on sites like Wikipedia.

Massive interactive repositories such as the recently-launched Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database are yet another front in the digital history revolution. Based on earlier materials gathered over the course of many years, the Slave Trade Database provides a wealth of demographic and economic data that can be organized in tables, timelines, and maps and offers myriad possibilities for both empirical research and digital pedagogy.

Stay tuned for more…..

Grants and Fellowships for Digital Humanities Projects

Although Yale has provided a decent level of support for digital humanities projects in the past, in this bleak economic climate it makes sense to be aware of the many external funding opportunities for the type of work that we do. The following list of the latest and greatest grants and fellowships should be of interest to humanities and social science faculty members as well as students and staff at ITG. While most of these are geared toward extremely large or exceptionally innovative projects, there are also some opportunities for smaller, more focused proposals.

National Endowment for the Humanities / Office of Digital Humanities. The NEH offers dozens of grants and fellowships in digital preservation and pedagogy. The wide range of programs available on their website is difficult to summarize. But their “Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants” should be of special interest to faculty and staff affiliated with ITG. Unlike some other grants, these are smaller in scope and provide support for the planning stages of new or experimental projects.

ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowships. Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, these fellowships are geared toward year-long scholarly projects. They are focused on three specific areas:

1.) “New digital tools that further humanistic research (such as digital research archives or innovative databases).”

2.) “Research that depends on or is greatly enhanced by the use of such tools.”

3.) “The representation of research that depends on or is greatly enhanced by the use of such tools.”

The Roy Rosenzweig Fellowship for Innovation in Digital History. This relatively new fellowship seems to be geared toward more mature projects in the later stages of their development. According to the American Historical Association website, the fellowship is “awarded annually to honor and support work on an innovative and freely available new media project, and in particular for work that reflects thoughtful, critical, and rigorous engagement with technology and the practice of history.”

Other opportunities and resources for digital history projects (which are my main area of interest) can be found at The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and the American Association for History and Computing. The personal blog of Dan Cohen, a Yale graduate who directs the CHNM, is also a rich source of news and information.

Tonido WebShare

In the digital world, the greatest problem facing users is the lack of security and privacy online services provide, as personal information is often stowed away on servers thousands of miles away by people we have never met. The challenge then, when one is looking to store or share confidential data on the internet, is to find an application that can do this efficiently while at the same time ensuring that no records fall into the wrong hands. And though such services are rare, one needs look no further than Tonido.com to find a suitable solution to their online privacy woes. Self described as “an open personal web application platform that safeguards your privacy and online freedom,” Tonido is a frontrunner in the race to privatize cloud computing. Available on Windows, OS X, and Linux, Tonido is a free, downloadable app that allows one to use a personal computer as a server, removing third party storage, and is standalone, so it can continue to be used even if the company and developers disappear. Once your account is running, digital media and other files can be stored on Tonido’s webshare feature and remotely accessed from any computer with a web connection as long as the correct URL and password are provided. This way, one no longer needs to rely on foreign providers to share and store files amongst different computers, as it is your main computer that acts as the server as long as it is turned on. Tonido also hosts, in addition to its webshare, a music playing feature called Jukebox, a workspace feature, a photo sharing feature, and personal journal feature called Thots. All of these combined make up what many are calling the single greatest idea to hit the web in a long time.
The one problem, however, is that Tonido seems to still be in its beta testing phase. Many of the elements on the currently available version do not work properly or easily, as there are many kinks still to be worked out, and the application as whole does not yet allow you to do very much. Nonetheless, Tonido has all the makings of a successful program, as the majority of its testing reviews are overwhelmingly positive. In the future, this office could use Tonido as a stable and secure means of transporting files amongst its many computers and we should keep an eye on it to see how it develops.

Tablet PC Review

Over the past two weeks, I have been playing with a Dell Latitude XT PC tablet that we have in the office. This particular model was Dell’s first venture into the PC tablet market and I was asked to explore the various annotative and interactive capabilities it had to offer. Having used a similar device before, it was fairly easy to familiarize myself with the many nuances of the Latitude XT and to sift through all the pertinent information to write this report.

To begin, I would like to talk about the actual interface of the Latitude XT. In terms of its visual orientation, one can choose to use the machine in a manner similar to a regular laptop, with the keyboard at an angle to the monitor, or to use it as a veritable “tablet,” with the screen rotated over the top of the keyboard to create a sort of mechanical clipboard. It is this second format that it is easier to use, given the touch screen technology the Latitude XT has to offer, but the simple manner in which a user can switch between the two allows for the minimization of delay. However, one problem with this occurs in that this highly flexible quality results in the tablet being, at times, not very physically stable, with the screen inclined to shake about when writing. Otherwise, this interface system was very satisfactory and was one of the strongest components of the Latitude XT (for more information on this, I would recommend looking at this site; http://www.istartedsomething.com/20080118/dell-latitude-xt-tablet-pc-review/).

Moving on, perhaps the most exciting feature of the Latitude XT is it touch screen writing capabilities. Using the digital pen that comes with the model, the user can literally write out anything they wish and the tablet’s handwriting recognition software, which is said to “learn” the intricacies of the users handwriting, converts it into text. Additionally, in Windows Journal and other programs, what the user actually writes comes up on the screen, lending the Latitude XT the feel of a handwritten notebook. In PowerPoint, for example, the user can literally edit, in real-time, a presentation, just as a teacher would in a projector slide show. However, the touch screen writing, for all its amazing potential, is not actually that easy to use. The pen itself is somewhat counterintuitive, in that one presses a button to erase as opposed to using the opposite end, and the touch screen does not always reflect your actual pen strokes nor does the handwriting recognition software always interpret your intentions. I, for one, had a horrible time writing numbers on the Latitude XT, forcing me to bring up the touch pad keyboard to complete such simple tasks as logging into my email and bringing up web pages. In short, the innovative technology the Latitude XT brings to the table, though impressive, still has ways to go before it is sufficiently effective.

Otherwise, the Latitude XT functioned similarly to any other desktop or laptop PC, if without the speed or capacity of new models. However, for the price of two and a half thousand dollars, one would expect both that the Latitude XT would exceed other models in this regard and that its innovative technologies would be highly beneficial to the user, two things that are simply not yet true with this model. The Latitude XT could perhaps be used in some classroom settings, particularly when coupled with a projector system in intro language courses, but it is my contention that Dell has a long way to go before it can produce a tablet PC that is more cost effective than other PC models on the market.

Make a photo roadmap on your trip on Google Earth/Maps/Flickr

untitled source: http://code.google.com/p/gpicsync/

Making a Visual Roadmap of your Photos

This post details how to use various freeware utilities to add geographical tags to your photos, allowing you to create an interactive map of your trip. Shown above are geotagged photos and a GPS tracklog mapped in Google Earth; you can also export to Google Maps, Flickr, lo.calize.us, and many other apps. The applications of this software are manifold: a professor here is using this technique to organize thousands of photos for a research project, but you can use it for something as simple as a scenic bike ride or to document the path of your summer abroad.

There are two main ways of doing this, varying in ease depending on whether you have a GPS receiver or not. If you have a GPS receiver, follow method one, which matches data points from your GPS receiver with your camera’s internal clock to automatically tag your photos with location data. This method is very reliable and accurate–if you’re taking thousands of pictures over a summer, you might want to consider this. If you don’t have a GPS device, follow method two. This allows you to pinpoint on Google maps where you think the picture was taken, and then tag the photo with that location data. The result of this method looks like the array of pictures above, minus the teal GPS tracklog path.

Method one: GPS device and timestamped photos

Before setting off on your journey, do the following:

1. Set your camera to Greenwich Meridian Time–(http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/ has a clock). Make sure it is accurate to the second.

2. Make sure your GPS receiver is set to Greenwich Meridian Time (which it will be, if you haven’t adjusted it).

3. Then, go out and take photos, making sure that your GPS device is tracking as you do so.

When you return from your trip:

1. Upload your photos and upload your GPS tracklog (either in the .gpx format, the universal standard format, or .NMEA).

2. Download GPicSync (http://code.google.com/p/gpicsync/) and install it.

3. Launch GPicSync, then:

  • select the pictures folder
  • select the .gpx or NMEA file
  • if you want to add geonames metadata, (which uses the www.geonames.org service to add the country, county, city, province of the GPS coordinates to your photos) check “add geonames and geotags. You must have an internet connection.
  • click on “synchronize!”

4. To view in google earth, click the “view in google earth.” If you like it, you can export it by selecting Tools-> KMZ generator in the GPicSync menu.

To view in Flickr, simply upload the files, making sure that in the settings for your account are as such: (Your Account -> Privacy and Permissions -> Import Exif Data -> Yes), then click the map next to each photo after you upload them.

By far the most accessible way of documenting this data is via Google maps (see this picture for an example); you can simply link to this page from your blog and have it immediately accessible by everyone. The feature is mostly built into GPicSync: see this page for a tutorial.

Method two: No GPS device

Picasa has a nice interface with Google Earth for geotagging photos, accessible from the menu (Tools->Geotag->Geotag photos). This will open up Google Earth and allow you to pinpoint the location you think you took the photo and then share it. You can also export to a Google Earth package in the same menu (Tools->Geotag->Export to Google Earth).

Geosetter is less futuristic-looking than Picasa, but much easier for batch processing of photos and very intuitive. It also has a built-in ability to export to Google Earth KMZ.

You can also share your geotagged photos on Flickr by clicking the map next to each photo after you upload it (making sure that in the settings for your account are: Your Account -> Privacy and Permissions -> Import Exif Data -> Yes), and on other nifty websites like loc.alize.us. Enjoy!

A New Acadenmic Frontier

I suppose this discovery could be considered by some to be a monumental find. I likened my excite4ment to that of the early “New World” explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries. Now I have not discovered a new island nation in the Pacific that has to date not been charted. I have, however, found a marvelous website that can revolutionize higher learning. The Website is Academic Earth, an online resource for teaching in the nation’s top research Universities

The website was created for one purpose, to make the quality education of this nation’s top university accessible to everybody using the internet. Some of the schools that are affiliated with this site are Stanford University, Princeton University, Harvard University and of course Yale University.

There are a variety of subjects to choose from. You can go online and study religion, law, political science, history, and economics. The courses are recorded on video and then broadcast on the website. One actually has their own virtual classroom with a full lecture. IT does not seem as though there are any live lectures available but I a sure the technology is there, nevertheless, the pre-recorded lectures are quite engaging.

The benefits of this site are enormous, especially for Yale professors. Given that the creator of Academic Earth is a Yale alum, priority seems t be given to Yale professors. Professors could record their lectures and then upload then to the site and encourage student to go to the site if they need to review lecture material or hear the entire lecture again. The possibilities can be endless as the top scholars of this university share their knowledge with the world. Indeed this is a new academic frontier worth exploring. The website is www.academicearth.com.