The Long Slow Climb

Draft two of my final project is completed… or at least what I’m calling draft two. There’s still a lot that needs to be finished (more images and more content needed to be added for one), but I’ve changed the design and structure of the site in response to critique. I realize that everyone is desperately working on their own final projects during this final week of class, but I would greatly appreciate any feedback you can give me.

I tried to diminish the “boxiness” of my site by increasing the border radii of the divs (yes, I realize that some IE browsers don’t render the border-radius style, but I can live with that) and I added a gradient to my header image. The Birds Eye View and the Map of the Defenses of Washington are the center pieces to the site, so I tried to make that clear by eliminating the sidebar nav in most places. While the links on my two image maps are up and running yet, please let me know if they easily seen. I saved a template page to use as a base for all my pages to ensure consistency across the site, but as some of the pages were designed before I created the template please let me know if you seen any errors or inconsistencies. Looking over my content for any typos or grammatical errors would also be greatly appreciated.

Any other criticisms, concerns, questions, and comments are welcome. My eyes are bleeding and I’ve stopped noticing things. Also my brain hurts, so I don’t know if I’m currently any good at problem-solving or creative thinking.

You can jump to my final project here. Thank you!

Addendum – Some of the other blogs I commented on:

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The Joy of Consistency

Before starting to really work on my final project last week I decided to take some time and normalize the design of portfolio and accompanying pages. Obviously, the design assignment is “off the reservation,” as it were. I sought, however, to create a more visual unity between the other pages. There are some minor differences with each one (e.g. the fonts are slightly different and the header images are not the same), but over all I hope I created a greater sense of unity. Also I hope I gave them all a more refined design as well. To softened the edges of the all the boxes I used the border-radius property in CSS. While that may not work in all IE browsers, it does work in Firefox, Chrome, and IE9. If someone could let me know how my layouts appear in Safari that would be great! I was trying to use em measurements for line-height and the like, and in IE and Firefox they always looked great. For some strange reason, however, using ems created caverns of space in Chrome between lines of text as well as with my paddings and margins. So I switched to using pixels instead, except for with font size where I did stick with ems. I don’t know if someone knows why I was getting such huge spaces in Chrome, but not the other browsers and how I go about fixing that, I would greatly appreciate advice. Also if anyone knows how to center images without using the “align” tag in the HTML for each image, I would welcome the  help there as well (It’s just so easy to use the align tag in the HTML and works brilliantly! So efficient too ).

Overall, I hope to be finished with tweaking these pages for the semester. I really want to focus on working on the final project, but I do know I’ll probably need to go back in a change some minor things. Also if you could check over my content to look for any typos, that would be greatly appreciated. I try to type everything up in Word first to help with proofreading, but invariably still make mistakes. So any advice is welcome and I will definitely apply what I can. Here’s the link for my portfolio so you don’t have to go to Dr. Petrik’s site. Enjoy!

Addendum – Some of the other blogs I commented on:

 

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Beseeching the Design Gods

My design page is live (finally)! But before you check it out, let me give you some background. As assigned, Megan gave me my first round of criticism. I’ve already made some changes based on her suggestions.

It was pretty tough for me to find inspiration for this site. I knew I didn’t want to go for the obvious blue and grey color scheme, but other than that I didn’t really have any ideas. I googled as many American Civil War websites as I could find and I looked at Historic Alexandria‘s website (specifically This Week in Historic Alexandria). Looking at these websites wasn’t much help (the Alexandria website was a little helpful). Apparently most Civil War websites are very basic and were possibly put up in the late 90s? Maybe? Organizational sites like the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, The Museum of the Confederacy, VHS’s An American Turning Point, or Civil War Trust are beyond my skill level and in some ways a little more modern than I wanted to go for. Then I looked at books I had that cover the Civil War and/or the second half of the nineteenth century. Nothing. Nothing really jumped out at me. So I decided to go ahead and start playing around with my website; after a few hours it finally hit me. I was relying quite a bit on Charles Magnus’ lithograph of Alexandria. In fact for the final project I hope to use the lithograph to it’s full potential. Why couldn’t it be my inspiration?!

Bird's Eye View of Alexandria, Va by Charles Magnus. The original image from the Library of Congress is rather large, but it has it to be. In small sizes much is lost. There is so much detail packed into this lithograph it's rather astonishing. Important landmarks are numbered and a key is provided. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Not only did I rely upon this image for my color scheme, but I also decided that it could be very interesting for my webpage to invoke an old lithograph. I created the two-tone body color to emulate the two-tone mat of old images like this. It’s my effort to evoke age (hopefully or at least it looks good). For my main color I was originally considering using a deep or dark red , but because of the image decide on that teal from the harbor. Red does seem to be a color often used for Alexandria (And Georgetown, and Washington. Some sort of weird District thing, maybe it’s all the bricks). The yellow-tan and brown matched the teal well and I got them using the eye-dropper tool. Using the WhatTheFont feature on MyFonts, I discovered that the font used in the title of this image was Night Train (or at least it’s a really great approximation). I didn’t like the open version (letters in negative space), so I opted for the regular version of Night Train. I almost didn’t use Night Train, but most of the fonts similar to it are too ornamental or too “Wild West”-esque. Night Train was appropriate to the era (and a match to the lithograph) without making someone think of Buffalo Bill and saloon girls. Finally, because of the black line that serves as the border around the image in this lithograph, I added the double black line around my content div.

Overall, this is approaching what I see in my head. For me it I really want it to be even more refined. I really want my background to have texture and look like paper. So ideally I’ll jettison (or hide) the web-safe colors and replace them. The web-safe colors just look to cartoonish to me. Although I did just discover a great list of web colors, so I might tweak the current color scheme using that list instead of the eye-dropper tool in Photoshop. Ideally, the paper image I’d use for the background we keep the two-toned effect. My image of Sneden was not restored, because I think I can get a better one so I didn’t want to waste time cleaning it. Also in the final product I want to use the image replacement method for the banner (I did add a Skip Nav feature, it’s hidden). Finally, I’m also considering extending the sidebar all the way to the footer.

One big question: is the color scheme too jarring? I do want some disconnect between content and color scheme (soothing colors for a site about a city during wartime). The disconnect I think is really embodied in that pull quote I placed at the begging.

I checked the site in Firefox, Chrome, and IE. Not surprisingly the site has some minor bugs in IE (some of the figure caption letters don’t show up). If someone could check the site out on Safari and let me know how it looks, that would be a great help thank you!

What do you think? Questions? Concerns? Comments?

Addendum – Some of the other blogs I commented on:

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Worst History Game Ever

Worst Game Ever!

There seems to be many points at which to look at this week’s topic and several really good ones have already been made. So I won’t rehash those points which others made far more eloquently than I could; David, Lindsey, Claire, and Celeste all wrote compelling blogs. Lindsey, in particular, did a great job critiquing the critique. For me the issue I had with “The Lost Museum” site was simple, the narrative was bad. It came down to that. I forgave the limitations of design, taking in to consideration when it was developed. I even forgave the poor integration of game and content (they didn’t even look like the same site). But what really got me was the fact that the end completely undermined the whole point of the game. If I’m supposed to be figuring out who burned down the American Museum then why did the person (or rather type of people) I accused get arrested? After I accused the copperheads (like I said not really a person, but a type of person – poor choice there), I got a little video about how it could have been any one of the groups who didn’t like P.T. Barnum. So I asked myself: what exactly was the point of me finding clues to solve the case? Why did I play this game? What exactly is the point? And in the end I was just perplexed and a little displeased. So often I find historical narrative to be poorly structured.

This wasn’t a situation in which the choices were too narrow. Plenty of games that have one outcome and very limited choices are still fun to play. I mean how many of us have gotten sucked into silly games on our cell phones? Or a classic puzzle? Or Candy Land? How many of us have gotten sucked into simple and stupid stories? Think Twilight and its sequels.* It also wasn’t a situation where the producers’ objectives were projected to strongly onto the user. Games and narratives tend to have some sort of structure. The whole thing wasn’t overly didactic (see Uncle Tom’s Cabin). I think the big problem with the game is that the ending completely undermines any fun we could have had with it. And isn’t the whole point of a game to have fun? Perhaps having a focus group of the intended age range play the game and give you feedback would have helped. I’m not sure why the designers decided to end with the video they did? Was it an attempt to remain historically accurate? We don’t know who burned down the museum. We don’t even know if it was done on purpose. It could have been a total accident. Hell, Barnum could have done it himself (maybe he needed the insurance money to pay off some debts). But that whole historically accurate motivation is problematic. The premise of the game is not historically accurate. Barnum never asked anyone to investigate a possible arson of the museum the night it burned down. So why would it matter if the conclusion was that historically accurate? Why force the end into a box you don’t force the rest of the game? The designers could have made your efforts pay off with an arrest or something more satisfying and then end with the little video explaining the real story.

Or maybe I just totally missed something that would have given me a more satisfying ending. If I did, please enlighten me. I applaud their efforts. I really appreciate what they attempted to do. I just want them to have developed a satisfying denouement. Narrative is very important even in non-fiction. It allows users to understand the contours of your idea which then allows them to formulate their own understanding. Poor narrative often pushes people out of their suspension of disbelief. Once that happens it’s very difficult to get people back. Narratives can be very tight or they can be very loose, but they are still important. I’m not entirely sure trying to subsume or eliminate narrative is a worthwhile goal. Instead wouldn’t it be better to craft a conversation with your users? Conversations are purely interactive and they have a beautiful ability to occur across time and space… think about all of the ridiculous, profanity-laced graffiti carved into your school desktop or in your science textbook.

Addendum – Some of the other blogs I commented on:

* Yay, I said it. Let’s be honest the Twilight series is not quality literature. It’s fine if you like them. I have no problem per se with reading the books; I just think we should be honest about what we’re reading. Hell, I got sucked into the whole Inuyasha series when I could get away with staying up to watch Adult Swim programming until 4am. Once when I was teenager I read a romance novel because my girlfriend loved them and I wanted to see what all the hullabaloo was about. I laughed so much for the three days it took to read the book. There’s no shame in enjoying fluff. Also I’ve just outted myself as someone who likes anime… there might be shame in that.

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Shakespeare Over Sousa

This week’s readings (April 2) gave me pause. Not because I necessarily disagreed with anything that was said, but possibly because the modes in which it was delivered. Like Sheri I found Lawrence Lessig video disappointing, but not for the same reasons. In his other work, particularly the book Free Culture, he actually proves his point. I understanding that TED segments are generally only about twenty minutes, but Hans Rosling had an equally engaging lecture that proved his point in the same amount of time (although I will admit that at one point I questioned where the whole thing was going and what it had to do with anything). I’m not sure that the examples that Lessig chose really proved his point, though he is right in that our copyright laws have not kept up with technology. But then again copyright laws are problematic in general.

Certainly artists were loosing money and control of their work without copyright protection. One of the big conundrums facing Shakespearean scholars is figuring out what plays he actually wrote (see Two Noble Kinsmen and there’s a whole collection of plays known as Shakespearean apocrypha ) and which Quartos or Folios are the most authentically Shakespeare (see Hamlet and Macbeth). So there is definitely a legitimate purpose to copyright. Yet on the other hand the laws shouldn’t strangle new development of work. Shakespeare is another great example of this. Not one of his works is an original story, not even close. The only plays that don’t have obvious source material are Love’s Labor’s Lost, The Tempest, and Cymbeline. Yet scholars have been able to find work that Shakespeare used to craft even these plays (the one most interesting for historians would be The Tempest which is based off of William Strachey’s account of the 1609 shipwreck of the Sea Venture). Would Shakespeare be sued for copyright infringement if he were writing today? Possibly. I mean some works are obvious rip-offs and not all of his source material would be considered public domain. At the very root of all of this is the simple fact that art begets art. In my one of my undergrad creative writing seminars, my professor asked us to write poems inspired by works of art. Before when even began writing he had us read art inspired poetry. They weren’t difficult to find and every poetry anthology is replete with such poems. Every artist is inspired by other artists. Currently there is a huge fervor over Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games series which are based off the legend of Theseus. Ireland’s greatest storyteller, James Joyce, was also routinely inspired by Attic Greek legends and cosmology. Now in both these situations these authors are using source material that is in the public domain, but that’s not always the case. Bill Willingham created the Fables comic book series. His original intent was to use Peter Pan as a character (and villain) in the series, but he could not because the rights to Peter Pan are held by the Great Ormond Street Hospital in the UK, but have fallen in the public domain in the US. So Willingham would have had difficulties getting his series published in the UK. Gregory Maguire also reinterprets older stories. His most famous reinterpretation is his series of books collectively known as the Wicked Years . If L. Frank Baum’s works were still under copyright then Maguire could not have written his books (nor could any of the countless other reinterpretations of Oz exist).

Which brings me back to Lessig. While his examples were interesting I’m just not entirely sure they actually had very much to do with each other, let alone his point (well except maybe the BMI story). Ultimately, I agree with Lessig. I just wish he’d have crafted his lecture better. Dickens and Twain were incredibly concerned with copyright laws. Their experiences would be very compelling to discuss. And while know of my examples don’t directly have anything to do with digital media, they do illustrate the importance and problems with these laws. Copyright is a concern for anyone interested in creating something new from something old even historians. Getting rights and permissions to use work can be exhausting and expensive. Historians must use primary sources in their work, otherwise it becomes very difficult to actually write anything. Placing too many barriers against using material creates not just creative stagnation but also intellectual stagnation.

Addendum – Some of the other blogs I commented on:

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Synchronize Watches

Many things came to mind as I read Edward R. Tufte’s Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. I couldn’t help but think about Tufte’s work connecting to Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media and Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees (both of which were assigned for Clio I)Yet I’m not really sure how the three books connect. Moretti and Manovich both deal exclusively with digital media, Tufte only briefly touches upon it. Manovich articulates a theory to support the use and understanding of digital media. Moretti articulates the methods that those in the humanities can approach and use digital technologies. Tufte is about the proper use of visualizations and graphics. Upon consideration the former two books just don’t seem to relate to the latter in any concrete and direct way. Still I can’t shake the feeling that somehow they do connect. I’m not sure what random mnemonic feedback loop has been established in my brain, but it’s there now and it’s not going away. I’m now inspired to go back and read all three books together to try and see what my subconscious is picking up on (something to do when the semester is over).

The other thing that struck me about this week is that there seems to be an odd bit of synchronization (serendipitous, perhaps) between my two disparate classes this semester. This past week for my museum studies class we had to read Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell. In all honesty I was not looking forward to this particular assignment because I do have some experience with label copy and it’s just not always very exciting to write. Surprisingly, Serrell’s book was very interesting and not a difficult read. What’s really interesting, however, is that Tufte and Serrell are arguing for the same thing. Each are articulating methods to achieve effective communication (or as Serrell calls it conversation) in their chosen medium. Often as historians we focus so dramatically on the basic thesis-driven argumentative paper, that we loose sight of effective communication. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your argument is if no one really understands it. Or wants to read it because your language obfuscates and confounds. This same idea underlies the articles about accessibility on the internet for the visually impaired. Many of my classmates (such as Margaret, David, Lindsey, Richard, Claire, and Sheri)  have also described the importance of accessible communication.

This lesson cannot be emphasized enough, but it’s not just something that has to be kept in mind. It must be taught. The skills that allow for effective communication have to be taught and practiced, they are not innate and intuitive. We do begin to learn them when we enter school as young children, but eventually something seemingly so simple gets pushed to the wayside. The problem is that effective communication isn’t always simple. This is particularly true when you’re dealing with complex ideas or in the case of many historians you’re dealing with images, although as Tufte points out even engineers, graphic designers, and others who work extensively with images get it wrong too. French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard is often used as an example of someone who got it right. And one look at his informational graphics it’s clear why. His images never cease to amaze and delight me. As historians, not only should we apply these lessons when we deal with images and digital media, but we should also apply them when we write. Sheri mentions posting Tufte’s six questions next to your computer when you work. Serrell recommends putting the “big idea” behind your project above your desk for easy reference at all times. I think both are excellent methods that we can employ to help us become more effective communicators.

My Digital Tool:

I really liked the “lens correction” tool located under the “filter” menu in Photoshop. Lens correction has many uses, and I’m not familiar when most of them. I used it to create the “professional” vignetted portrait of Walt Whitman and to straighten the image of the stone cutter. I’m really excited to see what else lens correction can help me achieve.

I’ve also mentioned two other tools in previous posts: “inspect element” available on the right-click menus of Firefox and Chrome, and the W3C School. Between the two I was able to teach myself some aspects of HTML that we didn’t cover in class or in the lynda.com tutorials.

Addendum – Some of the other blogs I commented on:

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Oh the Places I’ll Go

Here’s a link to my image assignment – Restoration Software.

I’ve spent the better part of my spring break working on this. Dr. Petrik wasn’t kidding when she said that Clio II would take over your life. I’d start working on an image or the HTML in the morning and when I’d look up it was bedtime.  By and large the page is finished for now. It looks pretty good in Firefox and Internet Explorer. I just checked it in Chrome and there is an obnoxiously large line height (I almost screamed when I saw this). Quick fix. Other than that, I’m pretty much in the tinkering phase.

What do you all think? Any suggestions? Advice? Any constructive criticisms?

I will say that the inspect element tool became my new best friend this week. Using it I learned how to make my nav bar horizontal, create links that jump the user to other places on the page (thank you, Megan), and the amazing uses of embedding align and style rules in specific tags. In order to do my captions I used the HTML5 tags “figure” and “figcaption.” But the W3C validation didn’t like that. And apparently no one is sure if those tags will stick around very long. So what I decided to do was create two classes called “figure” and “figcaption”. I also relied heavily upon the W3C Schools and the books we’ve been assigned. Finally, I tinkered with my other pages and made a “coming soon” page for those that have yet to be created.

I thought about including this gratuitous kitten image in my assignment. But as the restoration took me all of five seconds (it’s in pretty good condition) and it only served as a random vaguely comedic ganglia, I decided against it in the end. Instead I’ve included it in my blog. It’s originally from the George Eastman House Collection. As a good friend said, apparently cute kitten photos have been with us since the very beginnings of photography. Enjoy!

19th century LOLcats: Eyez the original fashun ikon. Eat yer heart outs, Audrey Hepburn. Courtesy of the George Eastman House Collection.

Addendum – Some of the other blogs I commented on:

  • Sheri (and this one of her’s as well)

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