Academia

Testing out Flash on an iPad

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation on June 4th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Fellow Stanford digital type Carlos Seligo and I checking out the usability of Flash on an iPad by running a remote client and hosting the Flash app on a nearby MacBook.  This was an impromptu investigation, and so I apologize for not performing a more rigorous and involved test run, or showing off a more engaging Flash application, but given all the fuss about how Flash just wouldn’t work for iPad for stylistic and technological reasons, I have to say I was shocked at how attractive and functional these apps were, given that we’d spent absolutely no effort optimizing them for multitouch.  Even the much-maligned rollover caused no trouble at all (in the case of this test, rollover events were only triggered if your finger left the screen at a rollover point, which is actually rather interesting functionality and I’d love to play with that).

As far as the gross inefficiency of Flash, we were using well-designed and coded apps, and not hacked together ads or other junk, but of course there was no way to test power drain since this was remoting in, so we had to settle for a rudimentary interface test.  I have no stance on Flash video–I don’t use it except to embed Youtube videos and don’t care if it’s replaced by some other video standard, but I think this and other examples of quality RIAs built in Flex and Flash put the lie to the blanket condemnation of Flash as a tool for software development.  As has been said elsewhere, getting rid of Flash is not going to get rid of junk ads or junk websites, it’s just going to result in junk ads and junk websites written in javascript.  That’s no improvement.

Oh, and A Guide To Authorial London would make a killer iPad app–it’s the perfect form factor for it.

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena on June 2nd, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

We tend towards influ­en­tial, frac­tional exem­plars, partly out of neces­sity (raised to the level of insti­tu­tions) and partly out of habit (raised to the level of tra­di­tions).

Tim Carmody’s very insightful “The Trouble with Digital Culture“, part of CHNM’s Hack the Academy event.

Visualizing Spatial History

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation on March 22nd, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

We’re all spoiled by cartoon maps of the allies storming Normandy or the melting ice caps, and so a visualization of spatial change in medieval China, while accurate (at least according to the Songshi, Taiping huanyu ji & Yuanfeng jiuyu zhi), doesn’t seem nearly as dramatic as thick-lined cartoon arrows rushing across the French countryside.

You can make your own slowly shifting maps of Song Dynasty political geography by downloading the Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty. Or maybe you can just load it into Flash and draw some arrows flying from Wang Anshi’s hands out toward the northern counties, abolishing them hither and thither.

Learning Incorrect Schema

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Fiction, Games on February 17th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Just finished watching Will Wright’s presentation for the Games for Learning Institute.  It’s cleansing, I think, to move from some of the raw intuition that open source types present as social commentary and listen to someone like Will Wright, who’s actually considering the difference between “the social landscape and the material landscape” and has been doing so for years.  The talk itself focused on the concept of games and stories as schema, fostering understanding of our world through lessons and cause-effect chains.

Wright obviously has been engrossed in story for his entire career, and during the unplanned delay before the talk engaged with an audience and pointed out that games do not supplant the linear narratives of books, but rather modify and complement them.  This comes up at the end of the talk, where he discusses Fractal Entertainment– How modern “properties” or “worlds” are not a single piece of media, but rather multiple expressions (some cinematic, some interactive, some linear, some board game, some RPG).  This includes not only top-down licensed expressions but also crowd-driven epiphenomena such as machinima and graphic novels based on Sims gameplay.

Also interesting is the concept of emergence not only within a game but also around a game, where the activity that surrounds, say, Wii Bowling, is as important to the enjoyment and definition of the game as the hardware and software.  As Wright puts it, the absurd gesticulations one makes while trying to bowl with a plastic stick.  But emergence plays a role outside the story proper, and becomes part of the meta-story, where the story is dissected and used as lesson (Wright notes that Blade Runner is the inspiration for city planners for The Dystopian Future to Avoid) and also as Story deconstructed into components to create what the designer calls “possibility space”.  And once that space is created, story emerges from it, to start the dialectical chain all over again.

Of course, story is too narrow, and Wright deals with this by settling on describing movies and books as linear narratives, which is broad enough not only to cover romance novels but also monographs and encyclopedias.  The convergence presented by Wright is mirrored by the convergence of high end research, focusing on model building and schema pattern strategies.  And while these schemas and models are arbitrary, they allow, as Wright points out, the ability to map the patterns that emerge within possibility space.

So many years of so many toys has left the theorists of the world in flux.  That’s why we have so many would-be philosophers with no background in the matter and so many academics struggling to understand their place in  society cut loose from the linear narrative.  It’s good to see someone like Will Wright, who is knowledgeable and systematic in his understanding of how the digital world and the social world mesh and the new subtleties available as a result of that meshing.  And on top of all that, there’s a great story about the Soviet space program accidentally crash-landing in China.

“Dinner for wolves”

Beautiful Prezi

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation on December 16th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Prezi is a presentation creation package that advertises itself as the living presentation tool.  All the cool kids at DAC09 were using it, and it’s particularly appealing because it allows you to embed swf into the presentation, so maybe we’ve finally got an awesome presentation tool that can put a rest to the one that Tufte so despises.

To demonstrate, here’s my own Prezi from DAC09, for my paper Scholarly civilization: utilizing 4X gaming as a framework for humanities digital media”:

The Underculture

Posted in Academia, Art, Buckeye, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Fiction, Games on October 9th, 2009 by admin – Comments Off

Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and the Unknown Troper?  Yeah, maybe.

Because while you’ve been desperately trying to keep up with the mind-shattering connectedness of Facebook and Twitter, an entire culture based on shows, books and, well, tropes you’ve probably never heard of has sprung up, organized itself and managed to co-opt the very classics you’ve neglected to read.  Didn’t realize the Epic of Gilgamesh has elements of a Zombie Apocalypse in it or that the Anenid has anything in common with The Blues Brothers?  That’s because you don’t get it.  Somehow, while we weren’t looking, the Internet soup finally managed to get that Cthulhu, Dungeons and Dragons and All Purpose Cat Girl Nuku Nuku really do make up a common culture with Daoism, Lando Calrissian, 西游记, Final Fantasy, hip hop, the Lolrus and, well, everything.

It’s all tied together with a common understanding of comic book superhero powers, video game mechanics and memetic mashups.  Even the academics recognize that there’s something that ties together all these strange, seemingly dissimilar cultural artifacts.  Don’t know what a critical existence failure is or the tripartite model of videogame space?  Would you be able to recognize a 30 Xanatos Pile-Up?  If you’re sure by now that I’m making this up, put yourself in my shoes, I have to live here.

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The Future of Learning in the Digital Age

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation, Eschatology on June 26th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Available here.

tl;dr The university needs Wikipedia more than Wikipedia needs the university.

Manifest Destiny

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation on June 16th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Just finished another read-through of the new Digital Humanities Manifesto and it’s interesting to see how the Digital Humanities continues to position itself as an academic, intellectual ally to so many of the progressive movements found on the Internet. Still, the discipline, or “array of convergent practices” as the UCLA folks like to call it, is struggling with a crisis of identity. Namely, there’s the nervous hipsterism (including scatalogical gif humor*–boy, there’s a strange phrase) injected into a thoughtful examination of a field that doesn’t quite how to describe itself to the lay and academic audiences simultaneously, but there’s also a tension that exists between the old-style Humanities Computing crowd and the more spatially and social computing-oriented Digital Humanists. As an admission of bias, I took the liberty of merging Humanities Computing into the Digital Humanities entry on Wikipedia 3 years ago (For which Willard McCarty apparently asked an audience at a conference, “Does anyone even know who this guy is who’s setting the agenda for our discipline?”), and so I reside firmly in the pro-Wikipedia, pro-multidisciplinary, pro-spatiality camp represented in this new manifesto.

Of particular saliency is the claim that we’re in the second wave of digital humanities work, which moves beyond trying to shoehorn quantitative functions in ArcGIS or MySQL into qualitative exploration of history, literature and art.  It also demands a reevalutation of Intellectual Property, especially in regard to the better-safe-than-sorry approach present in the modern university.  I’ll take issue with the call to free poor Shepard Fairey, but I’ve dealt with that in detail in an earlier installment here on Seven Lions.  In all, though, it’s the best example of aggressive, digitally-forward humanities thought since Unsworth’s Scholarly Primitives paper.  Regardless of your feelings on the place of the University in the digital world and the positive benefits of integrating wikis and twitter and GIS and any other new media into humanities scholarship, I’d recommend a perusal.

* This seems to only be present in the pdf version.  Maybe I have a rare, mashed up and graffito-laden copy.  I’ll save it for the grandkids.

Wherefore art thou, Wikiatlas?

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation on May 18th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – 2 Comments

It’s always of concern when a journal article opens with a vague statement.  So when What does Google Earth mean for the Social Sciences? opens a claim that cave painting can be equated to maps, then one has to wonder about the explantory power of the word “map”.  Is it a representation of geography, of ecology, of political boundary?  I’ve never seen a cave painting that could be classified as a map, unless we’re going to so broaden the definition in both symbolic and analytical ways so that we might as well include any image of any thing.  I realize it’s a throwaway intro remark, but the lack of specificity is worrisome.  The article points out that hierarchically invested geographies have theoretical consistency in urban, political and environmental fields, and then goes on to describe Google Earth.  But when it comes to Google Earth, all I can focus on is the simplicity of the tool itself, which seems to enforce a methodological simplicity on its users.  Sure, you can build kmls till the cows come home, but the “lack of analytical functionality in Google Earth” means one can do little more than display data.

The difference between discrete objects and continuous fields underlies Google Earth’s orientation toward an audience interested in looking at a map that is a static spatial reference point for various phenomena to be placed upon.  The map exists, as a classic map, underneath the data, and is considered an external, agreed-upon norm for the purpose of discussing the really interesting subjects, which exist on top of the map.  Whereas in GIS the raster or continuous field data is as easy to manipulate and analyze as the point and polygon data, in Google Earth it is the points and polygons where any manipulation will occur.  Doesn’t sound so bad, really, until we start to think beyond the surface of the Earth being simply topographical.  Land use change, environmental change and all those transportation and urban networks represented by Google Earth have an effect on what is presented as static data.  Deforestation areas, available as polygons, or sites of past flood levels, available as points, in reality overlap these and raster data areas, either periodically or permanently, and Google Earth reinforces a worldview wherein this is not the case.  You’re using a static tool consisting of overlays to represent an acknowledged dynamic socio-political/socio-environmental object whose various (arbitrarily mediated) fields are in constant interaction and do not sit neatly upon one another, without mixing (Are there miscegeny laws against the interaction of different data from different disciplines, did nobody tell me?).

This doesn’t mean Google Earth is trash, of course.  You can still examine the horizontal and vertical spatial relationships of point and polygon data.  And you can see how census laws get circumvented by certain coastal California cities.  But, ultimately, and as with most consumer products, its assumptions reinforce an ontology that may hinder knowledge generation by unnecessarily limiting the scope of questions asked or relationships examined.  Maybe that’s why the current crop of spatially-informed peer projects is so, well, bad.  Wikimapia seems little more than an application waiting for a meme bomb; there’s still no Wikimaps or Wikiatlas (and why would you even propose a Wikiteer when Wikipedia already contains its wealth of geo-referenced information in gazetteer format?).  I’m sure I’ve mentioned that Hypercities is terrible, but it bears repeating.  Open Street Map seems to have the community support, but rather pedestrian (if you’ll pardon the pun) aims.  I realize not everyone has the time or inclination to pick up a copy of ArcGIS and start creating hillshades, but isn’t there a middle ground in the manipulation and collection of spatial data between the superficial and the highly technical?

What we need is a serious, peer-collaborative, spatially-oriented agent-based model.  It’s not as crazy as you think.  First off, people are familiar with modeling, they just don’t realize it.  People just call them games, especially the sandbox games.  Given a space to play in and describe the interactive, dynamic processes that define our existence, I think we’d do wonders for improving general human knowledge (Which can’t be bad).

It should start small, with established principles, by creating a commons-based model of the Earth’s environmental systems.  Scientists have been building these for years, and creating a scaled-down (But not dumbed down) visually rich version that anyone can play with (And, more importantly, contribute to, which would require a MediaWiki version of some scripting system to design the logic for your particular actor or process) and then slowly integrate geologic processes (Imagine a world where every child has access to an animated explanation of the formation of the Andes), economic processes, migration, political change, you name it.  Since I already described Web 3.0 as the Hybrid World, I’m going to call the commons-based peer collaborative agent-based modeling Web 4.0, or maybe Web4 or Web4D or Axxiles.  No, if it has to be a Greek, it should be Antikythera.  The hardest part is getting the name right, after that everything else should simply fall into place.

Just to update, because you should never write anything about spatial matters without first looking at Very Spatial and Vector One, take a look at this procedurally-generated city and tell me we can’t build a beautiful model of world systems and processes with a low barrier to entry.

The Hybrid World

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation on May 16th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Michelle Obama just gave an excellent speech this afternoon, calling upon the latest crop of graduates to remember that they were lucky, and it is the responsibility of the fortunate to look out for the unfortunate.  So, naturally, like all of you, I thought it was apropos to talk about WordPress and “people” in Guy Fawkes masks.  Oh yes, it’s that tangled a web of flimsy connections, so let’s see if I can unravel it.

So it may seem strange that in listening to the speech I thought about folks looking like goofy late 16th century terrorists from a terribly dull graphic novel, but let’s review a recent statement from the WordPress Dev Blog:

WordPress is an open source project, successful because of the community that both develops and uses it. At the same time, some people find it difficult to become involved in the project, and are unsure of how to engage with the core team and community at large. The channels listed above can be overwhleming to someone just joining the community, and/or frustrating to longtime community members who feel like they used to have more influence. We need to fix this. The WordPress project needs to be welcoming, easy to navigate as a contributor, and provide useful feedback to help grow the expertise of its community members.

And compare that to the First Lady’s statements, putatively directed toward the non-digital world (Putative since there is, I would argue, a pure digital world but I doubt you can find a place on Earth anymore that doesn’t have some connectedness to the connected world) but directed toward that open-source, peer-collaborated project known as “life”:

So, whenever you get ready to give up, think about all of these people and remember that you are blessed. Remember that you are blessed. Remember that in exchange for those blessings, you must give something back. You must reach back and pull someone up. You must bend down and let someone else stand on your shoulders so that they can see a brighter future.

As advocate and activist Marian Wright Edelman says, “Service is the rent we pay for living…it is the true measure, the only measure of our success.”

Maybe the 100º heat addled my brain, but it reminds me of a particular identity crisis that a certain cat-and-anime obsessed web-site went through a little while back.  Reports of the Anonymous anti-Scientology protests stressed their real life nature, in contradiction to the pure digital social power that members of sites such as 4chan and Something Awful represent.  It’s an interesting orthodoxy that develops in these communities–whether it’s in the creation of open source software, peer-production of knowledge, or photoshopped sharks about to ironically eat various persons–and it’s the same orthodoxy of which Michelle Obama was reminding the students of UC Merced:  You didn’t just get your degree because of your hard work, you got it because you were lucky enough to get the opportunity and because the system wasn’t closing its doors to you.  WordPress found itself with a bunch of stuck and locked doors, Wikipedia finds itself with similar problems, 4chan found itself with a whole new wing of the house being built, complete with all new doors that led to places they weren’t sure they wanted to go.

So what does it mean?  I think this is Web 3.0–the Hybrid World–where the pure digital begins to do more than reproduce itself physio-socially in the form of T-Shirts but instead rebounds upon sociological and historical knowledge creating the Community Activist who worries not about access for the poor to a college education but access for the intimidated to the dev-channel of WordPress, or for newbie Wikipedia contributors to be treated as well as 10,000 edit veterans.  And the reverse, already more prevalent, the savvy use of the digital not as a gimmick or addendum but as a true asymmetrical ruleshift.  While everyone’s desperately anticipating RFDwhatever and the end of silos (like the web is really siloed to any meaningful degree–isn’t that just a bit too much hyperbole–I mean, I’m sure you could claim the data doesn’t have any way of interacting, but you’d have to posit the nonexistence of people, in which case I’m glad the World Wide Internets are not, for one, ready to welcome our AI overlords) or really-we-swear-the-Semantic-Web-is-almost-here optimism, there’s a growing permeability between the concept of on-line community and traditional community, and if you think it’s old news than I’d say you’re mistaking the extrinsic for the intrinsic.  There are a lot of orthodoxies on the digital side that will need to be thrown down before it’s complete (Ironically typified by a guy who injected himself into the real but insists that there’s a “firewall in between” real life and internet life).

Two states, grown in isolation, merge slowly and with pain, and with orthodoxy fighting from both sides.  But unification (Re-unification, really, it’s just that our life-in-letters was temporarily replaced with our “Internet Life” and we all pretended that it was a real distinction and not compartmentalization grown ossified) or synthesis, if you prefer the dialectic, is where this is all going.  Cross-pollination continues and I expect to see both creepy and beautiful, fertile hybrids as a result–as well as some useful, but stiff-minded mules.