DH101

Introduction to Digital Humanities

Month: November 2015 (page 2 of 17)

Blood Sugar – Getting Closer to Drug Users

I looked at the Blood Sugar project in the Memory issue of Vectors. This issue prompts us to ponder upon the relationship between history and memory. Memories are fickle. So, it is not history that matters, but how we remember them. Different projects in this issue revolve around the borderline of history and memory. Like its companion piece, a previous Vectors project Public Secrets, which presented the voice of women in the California State Prison system, Blood Sugar is a compilation of voices of an HIV prevention and needle exchange program participants that gives its listeners these drug addicts’ or HIV patients’ side of the story.

When I first launched the project, I was facing 20 voice recordings.

 

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I did not intuitively understand what I was looking at or where I should click. It was not until a few minutes into Bea’s story for me that I figured out I should click on the recordings themselves to zoom into the story. After you zoom into a story, there are different types of phrases the interface user can click: the quotes in quotation marks, the questions addressed, the definitions in squared brackets and, further down, the key words next to a circle.

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It look a little getting used to and a little background knowledge as the project did not give much context, but I was soon able to smoothly navigate around the project. I really like the idea of zooming into the blood cells as we dig further into the stories and the sound of heartbeats accompanying every click. This really made me feel like I could “Get Closer” to the speakers. I also appreciate the dark tone of the project as it sets a serious but intimate tone for the stories.

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One thing in particular that I noticed and appreciate about the project is the way the key terms are set up. Once we zoom in as much as we can and click on a key term, there are links to other stories. This is so interesting for me because before I even need to listen to the other stories, I already know there are common themes between them or common problems they encountered. In fact, I found out that if we hit the space key, the key terms become nodes and these nodes are then connected by edges to form a network analysis graph. This type of analysis really helps the interface users visualize the many unfortunate connections these people have with each other.

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Having read the Editor’s Introduction to the project later, I understood that they showed the drug users’ voices to help listeners steer away from the prejudice we had against them and understand their lack of choices. I thought it was interesting that the visual and audio cues that I liked about the project were intentional. For instance, the authors intentionally zoomed in to make us feel like we are getting closer. I feel like this project is a huge success because despite some initial confusions, I really felt what the authors intended for me to feel. Although I was not familiar with drugs and the life of drug users, I now feel like I understand them.

Week 9: Malperception

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The project I chose to analyze is “Malperception”, found in the Perception issue. Here, project designers, Perry Hoberman & Donald Hoffman, question human visual perception by looking at visual disorders to reveal knowledge about how our visual system and the brain work. It is generally known that we see and perceive as an interaction of light waves and our optical system and neurons in our brains.  However, sometimes we see things that are not there – these experiences are often thought to be hallucinations. But are they?  Some people do not see as most conventionally do, and these differences can help us evaluate the human visual experience. The authors discuss the importance of our visual system in terms of evolution given the current digital age, where media often exploits our visual perceptions, making us perceive images and films as real, when they are not.

The navigation of the site is quite easy and intuitive. Actually, the way it’s set up really reminds me of a very basic course website page that a science professor would have: There is a menu bar on the left side of the screens with three main tabs are Malperception, Disorders, and Commentaries. Underneath each tab are sub-tabs, so there is no “hover over to get a drop-down list” option which we often find on more contemporary website designs. The aesthetic of the website is very classic and simple: the designers achieved a nice balance of colors, text, and images. Each disorder contains no more than one-page description that is well-written and easy to understand, with key concepts bolded in red. There are about 2-3 related images on each page.

The website overall is not that interactive, but it does have such an option, which is conveniently located at the bottom of each page: a tab called “Visual Demonstration”, which opens a new window with that is supposed to visualize how a person with the disorder sees the world. Some of these are loop-images, some are videos, some are graphics. There is also a voice-over recording of the project developer explaining the disorder, and a recording of a person with the disorder describing his/her experience. These visuals are actually quite interesting and not as grotesque as one could imagine. Trying to simulate those experiences in their visuals, the developers obviously used photoshop and video-editing techniques, and their edits were actually done quite skillfully.

The authors’ own description of the website project admits that because of the very topic of their project – visual misperceptions – they may be trying to accomplish something self-contradictory: “visualizing breakdowns in visual perception”. They do admit that their visualizations and presentations are somewhat fictional and speculative, but they should be given credit for constructing these complex visualizations based on the knowledge that the science of malperception has generated. This is actually why I think this project is very important and cool because it uses digital tools to convey ideas that cannot be experienced in real life, and cannot be as effectively communicated through traditional oral or written communication. By providing this visual element, it brings the audience to a common level of understanding.

Overall, I would say this project was very successful in getting its point across. I think it’s interesting to note that the “visual demonstration” tab is all the way on the bottom of each page rather than on top or on the side. It makes me wonder: Was this intentional? Did the website developers put it there so people would read the description first and only then click on the visualization? If so, it definitely worked on me. Plus, considering that the descriptions were no longer than a page (with large text size), reading actually didn’t feel like a burden. Thus, the interface was smartly designed to really educate the audience about the project’s content and also engage them with interesting visualizations.

The website was made in 2007, and I think today, it could actually use some “modernization” to be made more interactive. For example, instead of containing that static webpage design, the project could start up with a short clip of one of the visualizations in order to grab the viewer’s attention (that is, to have something for users to look at while the website is loading). The website should still keep its side menu though because it seems highly intuitive despite it being somewhat “old school” in terms of digital visual projects. Finally, I would make the “Visual Demonstration” button that’s on the bottom a little bigger and brighter, because an average user (who is typically in a rush to scroll through) may not even notice it; thus, it should be made more conspicuous.

 

Totality for Kids

This Digital Humanities project provides a highly interactive comic book experience as it attempts to articulate events, ideas, and concepts leading up to  and going through the Situationist International movement.  It is quite an ambitious project given that the topic is dense requiring quite a bit of background.  The writing style uses humor and sarcasm to express emotion aiding the user to understand the ethos at the time.  The comic book format appeals to a younger audience and makes it easier to understand concepts.

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I looked through a quite a bit of projects on the Vector side and most of them were engaging, highly interactive and successfully combined various technologies, however Totality for Kids was the only one that I immediately found visually appealing and intuitive.  It did not require instructions on how to use the website.  In fact, the user does not need to do anything at all, not even click the mouse anywhere.  The site automatically takes you through the story line in a linear comic book navigation style.

My first impressions included feeling like I was going to play a game.  The music in the background with the strumming guitar conveyed a sense of a story being told, as if I should gather around and listen (or read in this instance).  The music then changes to a harder rock style with an electronic guitar creating a mood of urgency,  unScreen Shot 2015-11-23 at 12.14.33 PMrest, and action.  This engrosses the user into the story and provides the ultimate comic book experience.

It is a complete ease to navigate this site.  It immediately provides visual accordance of a chronological timeline with a sequence of numbers referencing scenes, slides, or in a comic book style, pages.  The user can either click on forward and back arrScreen Shot 2015-11-23 at 11.56.32 AMows to navigate or jump to a specific numbered scene by providing a permanent navigation pane to the left.  The site was designed to avoid the need of extensive scrolling.  Each scene is highly interactive and informative.  The user can click on elements within the scene to read more information and even cite the content.

I can imagine the designers wanting to create an experience that younger audiences can enjoy while learning about an intellectual movement that is often times a dry subject  written on the pages of a textbook.  I also believe that through this animated style and a more eccentric narrative can be created to successfully articulate and make particular concepts memorable.  The images enforce this memory and provide visual context to them.

I believe this project was successful because it engages, teaches, entertains and revives knowledge that may have otherwise been lost through other less interactive media.  This is one Digital Humanities project that does belong in and successfully employs the digital world.  It may look like a polished and easy concept now that it has been done, but how do you get here from scratch?  This, I imagine, was a substantial undertaking as it is with all intricate and elaborate literature.  The designer, however, got it right.  They choose a fitting format, used the right tone, employed the correct interaction, and made use and navigation seamless.

 

Totality for Kids

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 12.06.58 PMFor this week’s blog post, I decided to analyze Mckenzie Wark’s, “Totality for Kids” I chose this project because I thought that it’s content-wise and visual-wise, it was very intriguing. The project is about visually representing the social state of Paris in the 50’s and 60’s and the relationships and effects through the Communists party. The content of the webpage shows how the civilians during this time were tired, frustrated, depressed, and simply unhappy because they felt constant oppression. Through the images and the phrases within the comic bubbles we can see that some of the problems that stand out deal with physical & sexual abuse, loss of freedom of speech, clash of unions, loss of trust, and the reluctance to obey.

Navigating the website was also very interesting. First of all, the title of the website relates to the visual representation. The title, “Totality for Kids” does not mean that this is a website in the shape of an interactive comic book, but it is meant to simplify it to the format in which it would be easily understood. The images are meant for an adult audience as it shows rape, murder, and physical violence (images below). Such images are not meant to be viewed by kids at all. The format of the comic strip allows for the content to be viewed in a way in which it grabs the viewer’s attention and it keeps it trough each slide of comic pages. There are 16 pages that show the social problems through Communism starting from the early 50’s and passover to the 60’s.

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I think that the project is very successful because it is able to go above the normal level of teaching the viewers of this issue. It feels that by giving an innocent format such as a comic book, it allows you to see this in an alarming and propaganda-like piece. It also gives a more personal touch to the different problems that were occurring within closed doors during this time.

The only thing I would say that should be changed is the title. I understand the context of the title and the project, but if I would have been surfing the web looking for any website which helped make historical events easy for children to understand, I may have bee deceived with this website because of the word “for”.

-Karla Contreras

Totality for Kids

I explored the digital project, Totality for Kids, a project that aims to tell the story of communism in 1950s Paris, based on a book by McKenzie Wark. Designer Erik Loyer, the project uses the work of comic artist Kevin C. Pyle to illustrate and narrate the project. Totality for Kids narrates communism in post-war Paris by starting with post-war Paris “with the group’s predecessor the Lettrist International, and continuing through the apotheosis of political radicalism marked by the general strike of May ’68.” As the name suggests, the project uses an artistic quality that appeals to younger users, with an interactive interface the allows these users to directly engage with the artwork by clicking on the images and texts to read further into the project.

Navigating the site was really straightforward. The site is formatted almost like a Powerpoint presentation, with preview windows on the left with each page/slide marked with a number. Once clicking on a page/slide,  the site transitions from slide to slide using animation. Each page uses the Pyle’s comic-like artwork as the central focus, with speech bubbles, maps, and text boxes being clickable for users to read into. The vocabulary used in these explanations reflect the sites goal of being “for kids.” Furthermore, key topics of each slide are presented next to symbolic images as to tie the visual with the verbal, further supporting this “kid-friendly” interface.

Since Pyle’s comic work is the central focus of the project, each slide is presented as if focusing on a single frame of a comic strip at a time, making the slides visually dependent on each other, and making the site, again, straightforward to navigate, as the slides are numerically marked.

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I personally love the format of the site. I think it was really smart of the website’s designer to choose a specific demographic in order to drive their creative choices. The design aesthetic of the site is very clean, and I really appreciate making the artwork the central focus (again, because the demographic the site is trying to appeal to calls for it. ) I consider the site an overall success because of how seamless the narrative is due to the connection of the visual with the verbal, as well as successful in conveying the information in a way that is suitable for their intended audience.

Overall, I like that this project is unique in its aesthetic and voice. It’s really creative and shows that digital projects can be both informative and fun. The designers really thought out of the box for this project, and were really strategic in all of their visualization and presentation choices.

On the topic of Trains and Design

The vector project I chose to analyze was The Synthetic Philosophy of the Glance by Eric S Faden. The name of the project refers to the way in which film and visual media portray railroads and trains throughout early cinema. The project is of a very simplistic design, and unfortunately I left the site wanting more content and interactivity. The entire project was comprised of 5 pages: a short essay by Timothy Corrigan, a 12 minute documentary linked from YouTube (which I assumed was made by the projects author but was never stated explicitly in the video) a “Behind the Scenes” page which briefly discussed the recreation of early cinematic shots in modern times, a DVD tab to buy the documentary on DVD, and a contact page.

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The site opts for a white text on black background color scheme, which certainly is acceptable as the topic of the project is old film, but leaves the audience almost disengaged. This simplistic layout led me to feel that site was unfinished, unpolished, or simply dismissed by the author. With my limited html/css knowledge I could recreate this site. The site simply opens to the documentary and the movie proceeds to play. This of course allows the audience to engage the site right away, but it made me feel as though this video was being forced upon me, and that the this video was the only piece of content worth seeing on the site.

There was little to no interactivity on the site. Apart from clicking between the tabs, you could not interact with the website at all. This made it the website feel less like a Digital Humanities project, but more of a school project Faden made for his teacher. And even so, I would expect the content on a strictly web-based academic project to be far more extensive than a short documentary and another person’s essay.

Based on the editorial notes, the design choices in the site perplex me still. The editorial discusses that the topic is all about movement, and yet the site was completely stagnant. The topic is supposed to be about transformation and time through the conduit of the railroad, and yet this site makes it very unclear as to the subject of the project without watching the 12-minute documentary. I did not even know trains in cinema was an important part of the website until minute 6 of the documentary. The difficulty in understanding and interacting with a subject matter is a problem of design, and is the reason I do not think this project is a success.

Maybe I analyzed this project too early in its timeline. The editorial notes even say that they Faden will add additional resources to this site to fully flesh out this project. But as of now, the site lacks in both content and interactivity, and its publishing to the vector website demonstrates that both Faden and the Vector Journal believe that the site has matured enough to be a public spectacle, a point in which I disagree. It would be one thing if the site had too much content and not enough interface. It would have been another if the site had a flashy interface with very little content. But as the site lacks in both, it is curious to me as to why Vector Journal enjoyed this project so. Faden’s current project would be better submitted as a research documentary at a film festival rather than an interactive vector project.

Interface: Objects of Media Study

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Objects of Media Studies was an interface that demanded the attention of the browser. The first screen after the title was a long dialogue about the purpose of the interface: to keep the attention of the browser. This goal was evident in the blurb itself; there were certain words that were bold-ed and emphasized to capture that attention. The interface had colorful “+’s” and “o’s” that constantly shifted in the background like confetti. It felt somewhat magical and playful, but I still was confused at what this project was.

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The next screens were full of small previews of images and text, accompanied by text in the top right hand corner that would encourage me to click and hover over these different images. Each of these small images would expand, shrink, shift, and switch as I hovered over and away from them. Each of the photographs had explanations as to why the objects were related to media studies from the perspective of the photographer. The text had colored borders that would match up with the image’s border; however, both the text and its image did not show up on the same screen at time, and would appear on another image’s text. I had to actively switch in-between images or text to contextualize whichever image or text I wanted to know more about. It was quite a confusing experience.

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However, I think that in making the browser of the project actively click on all the options and including constant reminders to hover and scroll over images, the creators did achieve their purpose: to convey the “relationality, of eight objects hovering in space and time, all shot through with desire, affect, collaboration, politics, and tension” through a “[demand for] new modes of reading” (Vectors Journal Editorial Staff). I was constantly engaged throughout the process of clicking on all the options; it captured my attention. The arrangement of such strange objects in a single space and the manner and sequence in which they are arranged to unfold or appear forces the browser to make connections between the image and its respective text. Not only that, but it also urges the browser to make connections between that single image with the other images/text; therefore, it fulfills that “relationality” that the project proclaims to convey.

Overall, although it may have been overwhelming at first to navigate through the project, the project, in my opinion, was able to achieve its purpose.

Public Secrets

The Vectors project I chose to look at was Public Secrets by Sharon Daniel  After scrolling through a few projects I chose to examine this one because of its interesting subject matter and relatively simple to navigate interface. The site examines public secrets as it gives voice to women incarcerated in central California and their thought on the war on drug crime, the criminal justice system, and the prison industrial complex.

“Public Secrets reconfigures the physical, psychological, and ideological spaces of the prison, allowing us to learn about life inside the prison along several thematic pathways and from multiple points of view. Through a thoughtful and respectful framing and layering of the voices of individual women, we get a view from inside but also a view in context.”

When you enter the space you are greeted with audio that descries the prison’s appearance, as visuals abstractly construct blocks that appear to be prison walls, however it is unclear. After the intro is over, the blocks remain with statements of women who are incarcerated, the words reveal themselves and then disappear fairly quickly, I believe this lends itself to the overall theme of the site “public secrets”

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When you click on one of the quotes audio begins and you are directed to select either life inside or life on the outside depending on the quote you chose. Once you select inside or outside you are lead to more quotes with sub-genres like “violence” or “health”. There is also a side bar on the side that makes the navigation less maze-like.

While the site was fairly easy to navigate I could feel myself being drawn further and further in and being sucked into a never ending maze which I think the site wanted viewers to feel. The site’s use of quotes and audio really shows its tempt to give women on the inside a voice. I think the project was very successful in doing this and revealing secrets of women who have been incarcerated. you see the connections between thing like malpractice and how tit affects the women incarcerated and how many quotes have discussed this issue. I think that the aspects of the site which made it more difficult to use where intentional and demonstrated the difficult harsh realities of the prison system.

Totality for Kids

I chose to explore the vectors project entitled “Totality for Kids.” The project explores, “Pre-history of the SI, beginning in post-war Paris with the group’s predecessor the Lettrist International, and continuing through the apotheosis of political radicalism marked by the general strike of May ’68.” The project is designed like an interactive comic book however it’s narrative is somewhat confusing and hard to follow. In order to really understand the project you must read the editor’s, author’s, and designer’s statement.

 

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The interface of the project is disorganized. Within the “comic book” design, the user can click on any speech bubble in any order they want. This again makes the story line unclear. After observing the site a little longer I realized that the speech bubbles were not the only “click-able” images on the page. Some of the information itself when clicked also expanded on the page. This would have been nice to know. An easy solution to this problem would have been to give a number order to what icons the users is supposed to click. This gives order to the project as well as indicates which items in the story further elaborate on the storyline.

 

Another problematic feature I found in the project is how un-kid-friendly it actually is. Because of the more advanced language used as well as the smaller fonts and disorganized design I’m going to assume that this project is more of a satire rather than an actual way of explaining nineteen fifties Paris to children, however, this leads me to discuss another reason this project bothers me; the overall design of it. I was incredibly bothered by the array of different fonts used. Each page contained at least three different fonts making the pages look messy. Some of the fonts are almost too small to read. Another design flaw is the fact that the pages will move by themselves. Once you click on a page you have an allotted amount of time on that page till it decides to move onto the next one. There is no way of stopping this that I have found.

 

The overall WORST aspect of this project is the music. I cannot find any reason way an academic project like this should be set to a looping French folk song. There is a mute button, however is it located in the bottom right corner. It took me almost ten minuets to find this button and by then I was so frustrated with the project that I was pretty much ready to move on to something else.

 

Overall I liked the IDEA of using vectors for a project like this. Organizing the components within the project and getting rid of the music would make this project very successful.

The Roaring Twenties

This week I chose to analyze the interface of the Vector project entitled The Roaring ‘Twenties because this is an era which I have always enjoyed learning about this specific era in U.S. history.

When navigating the site, the creator’s of the website created a short and simple introduction and explanation of the project which helps user’s understand what the purpose and intent of the project was prior to actually launching the project. Essentially, the project’s intent is to recreate the sounds from a municipal archive of the streets of New York City from 1900 through 1933. What is interesting about the topic of this project is that soundscape is not a discipline that is common in the humanities.

One you launch the project, user’s are taken the actual project where the introduction page opens with a typical New York city soundscape during the early 1900s. The “Sound” section of the cite takes users to an interactive archive of the sources from which the creator’s of this project obtained their information. The designers of the project did a good job of creating easily understood categories for the various sources. Some of the categories of noise sources include traffic, building operations, streets, etc.

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User’s can click on “Space” to access an interactive map to view detailed descriptions of buildings, popular locations and types of vehicles and the typical types of noise levels that were heard in the specific area. Zooming into the map shows details about New York City during the early 1900s. Another great feature of the website is the “Timeline” section where users can see press releases and newspaper articles of the specific year or period about the type of noise complaints and relevant news to soundscape of the time. This is interesting because I never thought that noise was such a prevalent issue. The timeline also shows big noise complaints of notable locations within the city such as a 24-hour pumping machine that was continuously making noise in the city in 1926. The timeline also helps user’s visualize the drastic increase of noise starting in 1929 through 1933. This information might be correlated to the Great Depression or some other historical event that was occurring at this time.

Overall, I think the project creator’s did a great job in creating a holistic view of soundscape in New York City during the early 1900s. The timeline really helps user’s put into perspective the increase in noise levels and how it could have potentially been affected by one big historical event or a series or events that were occurring in the city during those years.

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