Wednesday, 28 March 2012

More Essay Ideas

Good grief, was on a bit of a downer last week! :0) Having just re-read the last post I'm going to start on a more positive note with a couple of new ideas.  The first one was more of an idea for presenting information for small museums or other history related institutions (Public History?) where space is a problem. All it would be is a projector with either a motion sensor or touch screen which would act as a large display screen and (something like the virtual museum idea from before) displaying information for multiple items. This could have virtually anything from static pictures and text to 3D images or video/audio. I wouldn't see this as replacing traditional displays as enhancing them, displaying further information or objects that didn't quite make it into the main exhibition. It is kind of a logical progression from a television showing a static video. I think children (and probably adults!) would love the interactivity of it with the possible expansion into advanced motion sensor technology (from something like a X-Box Kenect movement sensor) could add even more opportunity for interaction. Going back to my doom laden prediction from last week that digitisation could see the closure of archives etc, I don't see it happening any time soon as the space to store it just doesn't exist, let alone the man hours or money to do it! Plus, if you show a little bit of what you have online it could actually encourage people to come and see the larger collection. 

Another idea that has cropped up and is probably the one I may go with is a database website, perhaps something like Wikipedia but on a more specific or local format. For example, you maybe interested in Chartism but how would you link information from a website, court proceedings, newspapers, a book or video? The site could have a national general database (perhaps not always necessary?), but then go down to a local level with county's or cities and individuals with their information on that subject. Links to the relevant content to back up any information could then be provided. The website would give you a form to fill in for each page/item so that all the lovely XML is consistently set up (so a search for say "fire" doesn't have to include fire/fires/fireplace/etc) and to a small extent monitored. By limiting the description of items to be added to the database via drop-down menu lists and adding something called error checking (it makes sure a text or numerical value is entered) it could be quite a powerful way to use crowd sourcing. There would probably still be cases of independent text boxes, however it would be down to whoever sets up the database (and form) to decide how much or little freedom and latitude is given. I would also envisage a facility to request other classifications for the form, and probably some sort of history and/or discussion pages. I don't know if this has been done before? History Pin is possibly the closest but I don't think anyone has done a specific site for databases that potentially anyone could set up related directly to a history topic. There are lots of database hosting sites but these are for commercial activities and charge a fee. It is still a work in progress so I'm open to any comments (as always!).    

Also, please have a look at my map at the bottom of this page from BatchGeo regarding Swing attacks in Norfolk - I think it looks alright however I'm not sure about how accurate it is(in numbers/specific location versus parish). Good luck to all working on essays/dissertations! ;0)     

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Digital History Essay Blues

Have been looking at setting up my plan for this essay and had two ideas with regards to designing a website related to history;
  1. Was with regard to a virtual museum with virtual floors and displays you could wonder around and interact with. Perhaps have multimedia elements as well.
  2. Was a micropayment pre-paid card/wallet for paying for internet content.
The problem with both of these is that they have been done before! There are some virtual sites out there of varying quality and some sponsored by larger institutions but not one along the lines of what I was thinking of. Basically a site like a computer game (Sims) or Second Life with rooms to walk around and cabinets to interact with? It could be as large as you wanted it to be, with as many artifacts on display as the server could cope with! However, the problem with this is it would put people off going physically to the actual museum/archive which kind of gives the reason why this hasn't been followed up. Some sites follow; Is ok if kind of old fashioned I have no idea what this site is trying to achieve! Essay on virtual museums from 2002 Article on a 3D art museum where your interaction can create art (?) as you walk around it.
This could also be an argument why so many institutions have avoided putting collections online with regards to reducing visitor numbers. Its free online yet may cost you to get to or into an actual museum or archive (most archives are free but charge you for photographic licences or copies). It could also result in archives being shut down; its easier to digitise everything and shut the visitor centre and have only a few people looking after a hermetically sealed vault somewhere. It would be a shame as I like handling actual physical manuscripts or letters that may not have seen the light of day for years. This leads me on to idea two and the micropayments thing which cropped up in last weeks session with regard to viewing content online. A quick search on Wikipedia led to the fact that people with vastly more resources than myself had tried and failed with this second option.  

Hence I felt I had run out of ideas until I thought of an app (which seems to be the direction things are going in) whereby you could create a map with different locations on it relating to a project. Perhaps like Batchgeo but with more functionality e.g. like Zotero, a button sits on your browser and you push it and it adds the current webpage and location onto a map so you can build up a picture of what happened, where and when (timeline as well?). And then I remembered a very old idea from college; stay with me here as we are going to go theoretical! The tenet of postmodernism is that nothing is incorrect so long as you have at least some evidence to back up a theory - which applies to history as well. Nothing is set in stone with regard to theories as opposed to facts (?), it does get a bit complicated but that's the gist of it I think.  How on earth do you teach  this? It took me a while to wrap my head around it - I remember having a conversation with my history teacher at college when doing my Access course (hi Bridget!) about a website that was flexible. Imagine something like a Rubik's cube with lots of different compartments; in each compartment a historian tries to convince you of the validity of their theory. So you might have an overarching subject like the First World War but like the old choose your own adventure books you follow a path through the site and could come up with different conclusions depending on which compartments you visit. So for example, was it Germany's fault the war stated or Britain's?

A bit of a long one today however I found it cathartic to vent out some ideas;  I will choose one of the above and write the essay very soon as I think we have only got about a month and its due in!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Critique & Other Stuff!

Hi, have been busy like everyone else I suppose with dissertation and essays - the Critique of a website is now up. Go to the left hand side of this blog and there should be a Pages gadget, click on Critique and it should take you to another page with the text and images on it. Have also handed in hard copy today just in case the paperwork gremlins get their knickers in a twist?! I am also having trouble with the images, I've tried different files and sizes but am forced to conclude that it's something to do with Blogger and the way it compresses files. The ones I'm uploading are fine on my computer, why do they look bad once I've uploaded them to my blog? Some homework for me for next week!? Any way have found the following site in my travels, its a bit macabre as its figures for capital punishment but interesting nonetheless - I didn't know you could be hanged for Uttering (?!) in the nineteenth century;

Apparently something to do with knowingly passing a forged document to obtain money/defraud someone. Not as worrying as it sounds... 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Embedding HTML what now!?

Hope everyone is having a great time ploughing through their dissertation's and essay's - I know I am! ;0) Anyway, enough of the sarcasm and onto this weeks featured topic which is embedding code into your blog. Now this may sound a bit complicated however it does look effective and doesn't require you to know a lot about Dreamweaver or HTML etc to get it to work (in theory at least!). I think most blog sites have what is called a widget which will allow you to post HTML code for objects into a space on your blog. Now why would you wish to do this I hear you ask? Well many sites like Flickr, YouTube and Google Maps have an option for you to 'nick' or grab their code and use it in your website or blog. This is usually located under a share option, for arguments sake I'll use YouTube which has a share button under the video screen. Once you click on this, you are given the option to copy a link to the page you are on however you need to press the embed button which will give you the HTML code you will need to copy (See Below).

If you have already opened a widget which allows you to paste the copied code into, bonus points for you. If not, do that now and then copy the code that you need as it's very important to copy all of the code and paste it into the box provided by the widget. I think Blogger allows you to give your object a title and you just press save and there's your video, slide show or map etc embedded into your blog! The same process was used for the slide show below (although I had to upload the images first). I believe Wordpress has a similar option, called 'Text' which does pretty much the same thing. You can also change the size of the object by changing the frame width and height values, although sometimes there are two sets of these at the beginning and near the end of the code just to confuse you! If you are a little more adventurous you can paste this code without a widget directly into your blog post under the HTML option but you have to be very careful where you place your cursor (it must be in the right place, even I get this wrong sometimes!). But experiment with what you can do, if it goes very wrong you can always undo or delete and start again.

Why would you wish to do this I also possibly hear you ask? Well, it looks kind of cool but also if you think about it if you re-direct someone to another site (like YouTube) they will probably stop looking at your blog and start watching video's about dancing cats or something else!?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

What is OCR? Algorithm anybody?

Just thought that perhaps maybe it would be helpful to explain why OCR or Optical Character Recognition is so important to history on the web and why the underlying algorithm can be so to. Basically, when you scan a document into a computer it converts it into text via an OCR program - this believe it or not your printer can probably do at home. If it has a scanner built into it it will probably have a program that can turn a sheet of typed text into a document (such as Word or a plain text document). Although the programs and scanners for history documents you can appreciate are a lot more complicated than the ones you have at home. The algorithm is a set of logical rules for the computer to follow so that it can recognise say a letter of the alphabet or other characters or numbers. This generates the underlying text document which search engines use, including probably the sites own search engine. Algorithms can be programed to become self correcting, so if the algorithm doesn't recognise a long 'S' for example and it is told that it is an 'S', the next time it sees a long 'S' it will automatically use the correct letter. This is what I believe Tim has been trying to argue for some funding or perhaps a collective effort from different institutions for some time. However, although I kind of understand this you would need a programming whizz to set up it all up which would require lots of £££'s! Each mistake requires someone to go in and correct it, which also costs £££'s! This is why some institutions use voluntary users to correct the underlying text. The good thing is once you have this 'Super-algorithm', it would be all conquering and take over the world (!?) or perhaps just make looking for something with a lot of long S's in that much easier.

If this proves useful I might explain how to use embeded code for things like the slide show below next week?