Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mirror Worlds

At Georgia Tech University's Augmented Reality Lab:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dissertation on "games in place"

Stumbled onto this short video, which seems within the realm of my dissertation research. Thought it would be worth posting and following up soon with the author, John Martin, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Visualizing augmented reality - a pilot

Here are some ideas from a company called Najork about how AR could change the way things look in the world:

Augmented reality business cards

Yet another example of how augmented reality can change business communication (but don't you think the guy on the left of this card at least could have dressed up a bit for the occasion?)

Friday, October 9, 2009

A digital magazine to Flyp over

This interview with Flyp editor Jim Gaines shows not everyone is asleep at the wheel in journalism circles. Here's the video description:

"FLYP is an independent media startup trying to reinvent the magazine online, not just by posting print/image/sound/video content to a website, but by rethinking what digital story-telling and the next-generation magazine might become. The presentation/design aesthetic is built into the architecture of the story, intended not just to make a story look pretty, but to pull a visitor deeper into the ideas or narratives. Text, image, sound and video are elements to be juggled based on their effectiveness in telling pieces of a story. No one element consistently dominates. Navigation through articles is meant to suggest a kind of digitally tactile sensibility.

Even though its physical form is ephemeral electrons, FLYPs origins are anchored in the physicality of the traditional magazine. Each story is a small multimedia production project in itself. Text is important on this site, but image, sound and video arent just supporting media; various media take turns in the lead, depending on the story or idea. FLYP tries to combine the high-design richness of a glossy print magazine with the dynamic potential of a media-rich website in ways that suggest that a general-culture publication can be a compelling window on culture. Editor-in-chief Jim Gaines was formerly managing editor of People, Life and Time magazines."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Innovative ideas about augmented reality interfaces, without markers

This research project at the University of California - Santa Barbara shows how far we have come in this technology in just a few months.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mobile Storytelling at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site - Audience Evaluation

Here is the first section of the survey I have been conducting to evaluate the potential mobile audience and its needs and wants at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site:

Questions 1-10

Click Here to take survey

And here is the second set of questions (11-18):

Click Here to take survey

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Another platform emerges for augmented reality storytelling:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Those looking for ways to microfund small projects might want to consider KickStarter, which uses's payment system to process "venture" capital.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Using augmented reality to fix a BMW

This is sort of strange in a cyborgian way (think of the mechanics in the shop all walking around with these sorts of goggles on), but it demonstrates a practical use for augmented reality:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The inevitable Augmented Reality t-shirt

Knew this was coming ...

PaperTweet3d: Augmented Reality T-shirts from squidder on Vimeo.

yellowBird -- 360 degree immersive video

This is fascinating. You can click and move around the 360-degree view -- not a static one -- within the crowd at a concert. Seems like there could be a lot of innovative uses for this kind of technology.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Another perspective on Chris Anderson's "free"

Wired editor Chris Anderson is making the rounds to promote his book "free," this time on The Colbert Report. It's an interesting argument to make.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Chris Anderson
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

"Base Ball" at the Fort

Local filmmaker Mark Dodd recently shot and edited this clip of me playing "base ball" as part of a historic reenactment at the Fort Vancouver National Site in Vancouver, Wash. Thanks for sending it this way, Mark!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wired's Chris Anderson talking about "free"

Fascinating interview with Wired's editor, on Charlie Rose show (Free is here to stay; But what's the pet for our penguin?):

U.S. Debt Clock

This is mesmerizing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More advances in digital holograms

I'm trying not to get too sidetracked on these, but the development of this technology is a fascinating realm of augmented reality. Here are a couple of projects by a grad student from Japan, named Julien Pilet, doing work at the EPFL labs in Switzerland:

And this one:

Jeff Watson presentation on locative media and responsive environments

Stumbled upon this slideshow of a recent Jeff Watson lecture that had some interesting factoids about locative media:

Friday, July 10, 2009

Combining augmented reality and social networking

Found this application (and video) that supports the concept:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Topps 3D Live - Another AR example

This takes the digital hologram past the model and display phase and into simple manipulation of the hologram, augmented reality for a mass market. This has to be one of the earliest commercial ventures into this realm. If you know of any others, please post them.

Digital holograms via Flash

I have no idea what I could do with something like this in a practical sense, but it will be fun to think of possibilities:

IBM Seer at Wimbledon 2009

American giant IBM gets into the augmented reality game at Wimbledon:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mobile storytelling project at Fort Vancouver National Site

I'm working on a new mobile storytelling project in the vicinity of the Fort Vancouver National Site in the Portland, Ore., area, where the Oregon Trail ended for many settlers.

As part of this, I'm conducting a survey of the potential audience and trying to determine what will work best, including the technology to use, the format of the content and the core narrative structure that will have the biggest impact and leave the most flexibility in terms of artistic expression.

In preparation of the survey, I interviewed a neighbor, Dave Griffith, who has an iPhone 3G and an interest in local history. He graciously is allowing me to put a summary of his responses on the blog as well, in case it might provide insights to anyone else working on mobile storytelling projects.

To begin with, he noted, the iPhone doesn't allow applications to run in the background, which means a potential audience member would have to have the appropriate program loaded on the right device and have it ready to go to even start engaging with an interactive mobile presentation. Those are a lot of obstacles to overcome, including trying to create a universal medium when standards are evolving and shifting and each mobile device right now has different applications to do different things.

Let's say, though, that we can create a mobile presentation that can be accessed by the majority of the devices -- including the iPhone, the G1, the Palm Pre and the BlackBerry Storm -- and that they all, or most of them, can use the material in the same basic ways. Griffith's point extends to the idea that somehow these people are going to need to know to have the specific application loaded and ready to go, and any technical glitches between the application and the material will be negligible. How would this mobile story be publicized, especially at the location? How can this material be accessed by the most people, in the easiest way? Those are important questions.

If he could access such a piece, Griffith said he would like that to be a multimedia blend of text, images and video, not just a chunk of text, or a photo or a video. He was intrigued by ideas I floated about following in the footsteps of history while a nonfiction anecdote played itself out, or by interactive mysteries or games, that could be broadly labeled as historical fiction. But when I brought up the possibilities of social networking as part of that, including interacting with other participants as they followed along with the story as well, he said he did not have an interest in taking the idea that far and that he likely wouldn't use such a feature.

In terms of specific content that would interest him, he leaned toward contextual enrichment via real maps, photos of artifacts and journal entries, plus other information that provided details of the ways in which people, especially famous or quirky people, lived in the mid-19th century, when Fort Vancouver was at its apex in history. Yet he thought it also would be fun to experience that kind of material as part of a game, or mystery, or tour, particularly one that was family-oriented and would include children in the process.

All good fodder to keep in mind for later steps.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Born Digital

Just finished "Born Digital" by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, which addresses the idea that people born after 1980, when computers emerged, dubbed "digital natives," haven't known anything but digital technology, so they therefore live differently than those born before 1980. The World Wide Web, by the way, didn't appear until 1991, even though it seems now like it's been part of our lives forever.

I read somewhere recently, too, that the gap between generations right now is the greatest since the Vietnam war era, with the country having a distinct split on the direction it should follow.

The "Born Digital" book covers many of the issues and ideas that have emerged from this fissure -- related to such topics as privacy, quality of information, pirating, learning and innovation -- in layman terms. Even though it was written by a couple of attorneys, and it's about a technical field, the writing style and language clearly were aimed at a mainstream audience. Sometimes, I found that tedious, in terms of repetition and unneeded context. But I suspect those who haven't read much in this field would need that framework to understand the points.

That said, here are a few excerpts from the book I found interesting:

* In 2006, Tower Records liquidated, and by 2008, iTunes was the largest music retailer in the U.S.

* If you are not a digital native, you still can be a "digital settler," helping to shape this new world, even though you weren't born into it.

* If the VCR didn't ruin the movie business, why will digital file sharing kill the music industry?

* "I think the reason why print magazines are still very popular is because you kind of have the feeling, okay, this is like one issue, and this is what happened this week. And on the Internet ... there's no beginning and no end. -- An 18-year-old Harvard student."

* In 2007 alone, 161 billion gigabytes of digital content was created, or 3 million times the amount of information in all of the books ever written. Experts predict in 2010, the world will produce nearly a trillion gigabytes of digital content.

* A person's short term memory can only hold seven items at once.

* When people are overloaded with information, they tend to respond with simpler and shorter messages. Hmmm, Twitter?

The chapters on digital dossiers and information overload were the most striking to me, making me rethink some of my views on sharing information online as well as the ways in which I handle the glut of knowledge. The authors use the metaphor of a tattoo as a way to think of something a young person might leave in cyberspace that will haunt them the rest of their lives.

Much of this confirms my mantra on web design: simple, straightfoward and clean. As I work on building into that vision, and transform it for mobile screens, (and the more I use mobile apps on my G1), I'm getting convinced that the less complexity, the better.

- Brett

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Two new augmented reality apps

New augmented reality apps for G1, Layar, and for iPhone, ARToolWorks; story is here, and video is below; this sort of location-awareness evolution is happening right now:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Clay Shirky: How social media can make history

Quite a bit of interesting information about the innovative disruption of social media in this video lecture, from TED and tech writer Shirky:

"Metareality" begins to emerge

Check out this application, Wikitude, and BNET story about it:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mobile storytelling presentation

Would like to have the audio as well, but the slides have some interesting notes on them to look further into:

Friday, June 19, 2009

"The Perfect Thing" by Steven Levy; more iPod worship

After reading "iPod and Philosophy," edited by D.E. Wittkower, I was curious about other books on this topic of the iPod and the impact it has had on American society.

That led me to "The Perfect Thing" by Steven Levy, part of which I had read in Wired a couple of years ago. Levy, a senior writer for that magazine after serving as the chief technology writer for Newsweek, writes an engaging introduction about the behind-the-scenes intricacies of the launch of the iPod, only a month after Sept. 11, 2001, and how even Apple didn't know quite what they had (the iPod originally was touted as a music player and, in almost the same breath, an alternative hard drive for computers).

Dylan Wittkower, editor of iPod and Philosophy, will be a guest in my Texas Tech class next week, and reading Levy's work, as well as reflecting back on Wittkower's collection, I wonder about the techniques used by writers in this rapidly-changing field to avoid commodification of their work.

Wittkower's book was published last year, but there are only two mentions of the iPhone, sort of an extension of the iPod, which actually might turn out to have an even bigger impact on society. The raves (and there are many, many statements that gush) about the iPod now seem almost quaint in the wake of the iPhone, G1 and the like.

Levy's book, written in 2006 and updated in April 2007, seems even more in a time capsule, because it talks about the iPhone in prerelease state (first ones were sold in June 2007). Unfortunately for Levy, though, without the foresight, he whiffs at its potential and implications.

Levy did get to use an iPhone, in highly controlled circumstances, before he wrote about it. He did praise its improvement of the cell-phone experience, its sensors, antenna and such. Levy also criticized the lack of storage on the phone, which already has been corrected, and the AT&T collaboration, which hasn't.

Here is one of his strongest comments about the potential of the iPhone, misunderstanding its impact just like so many people discounted the iPod before it:

The iPod "made us want to hear more songs. ... Will the iPhone encourage us to ... make more phone calls? I don't want more phone calls. I want fewer; and when I'm on the road, or staring at hummingbirds in my garden, I don't want any. In fact, if you take into consideration the universal loathing that comes from being around people who talk on cell phones, it can be argued that if the iPhone encourages more conversations, it will have done us a universal disservice. At least iPod users keep to themselves."

And "It will be tough for Apple to match the iPod as a life-changing, and world-changing, phenomenon."

Levy does use qualifying phrases, such as "it can be argued" and "it will be tough," that temper the mistakes he makes. But I wonder, and will ask Wittkower next week, how he approaches the ever-changing nature of writing about technology and cutting-edge concepts. Particularly with the publishing cycle of a book, which can take a year or more to get to shelves, how do technology writers deal with this aspect of their work, to keep ideas fresh and engaging, even when they get dated almost before the ink dries)? Besides disclaimers, any ideas?


Ran across a strange book in the library recently about an activity called "Googlewhacking." That means to find a two-term phrase on Google that has only a single hit, which apparently has the odds of one in three billion (if you don't believe the author, Dave Gorman, give it a try).

Gorman found these:

Francophile Namesakes
Dork Turnspit
Unicyclist Periscopes
Ammonite Googolplex
Pomegranate Filibusters

I suppose as soon as the Google spiders find those here, the particular GoogleWhacks will be ruined. But that's part of the fun, I guess. If you think the list sounds like gibberish, there are some rules, such as the words must be real and found in, or some other reference source like that.

Gorman then traveled around the world investigating the people behind the bizarre web sites that created the GoogleWhack. One in particular was a site, "dork" and "turnspit" in Googlewhack terms, that showed ordinary photographs of women with their dogs. That's it. Just women adjacent to dogs. Nothing creepy, unless you consider the activity of collecting such images bizarre. Gorman met the creator of the site, and he seemed relatively normal, just a person who likes to collect something odd.

Isn't this part of what makes the Internet so amazing?

Monday, June 15, 2009

The art of the interface

Thinking about interfaces reminded me of the mantra, probably started by Michelin, that emphasizes the only thing touching the ground is the tires. Well, in the world of web sites, the only thing touching the users is the interface, and if that doesn't work well, they will not be back.

But what does that phrase mean, "work well"? Is it strictly usability and utility? Can an interface actually be artistic and challenging and add a layer of meaning on its own? I think so, but that doesn't mean most of the web users are ready for such a development. In short, I suspect that we still are in an era of getting used to the possibilities of interfaces. Significant experimentation and artistic expression can't really come until everyone understands the rules. Once those common guidelines are established, the artists will come along and break them in fascinating ways. At this point, I suspect, most of the experimentation gets written off quickly as someone screwing up. In hindsight, some of the interfaces being created today will be groundbreaking work. But we seem to still be too close to the beginning of all of this to appreciate what we have.

While I enjoy complicated and provocative interfaces in theory, and I do like those on some web sites, I have to add that strange navigation and obscure references and labels frustrate me quickly, too. I have to be in the mood to explore for those types of pages to work, and most of the time, I'm simply on a mission to seek and process information quickly. I just don't have a lot of time right now to try to figure out the whims of the web designer.

If I had more time, which might never happen again, and if I really was interested in a site, I probably would have fun tinkering around with an innovative page. But, again, usually I'm in a hurry to find what I want, and I would guess that most people are operating in today's world with that kind of mindset.

When it comes to mobile applications (I have a G1 Android phone), interfaces have to be even simpler, because the screen is so much smaller and the devices, frankly, are more foreign. That doesn't leave much room for experimentation at this point, and I think it would be a death wish to try to create an expressive mainstream interface on a mobile device at this point in the medium's development. Maybe down the road.

Right now, I really like the simplest and most straightforward mobile interfaces. In particular, I like the ones that use the congealing standards, hearkening back to the early days of the Xerox PARC desktop (whence came the familiar WIMP -- Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing device) or the early Apple computers, the genesis of computer conventions highlighted in the conclusion of Steven Johnson's book "Interface Culture."

Some of the best interfaces on my G1 right now:

Shop saavy (allows bar codes to be scanned by the phone's camera, then produces lowest prices for the items listed on the web as well as in nearby stores, located by GPS) -- Press the icon, a list of five actions appear (search for a product, which involves taking a picture of its barcode, wish list, history, settings and price alerts, another cool feature that will let the user know when the item price has dropped to the point specified by the user. Even though this application is mind blowing in how it changes the shopping experience, it was so simple to use that I just started pressing clearly marked buttons and having amazing amounts of information appear.

Shazam (listens to a song, then identifies it, loading a screen that gives access to more info, chance to download, etc) -- This amazing program can listen to a song coming out of a radio and identify it. I couldn't believe it, until I tried it. But I was thrown off the first time by the two options this app gives me when I start it: "Tag Now" and "My Tags." I had no idea what either one was, so I just pressed the Tag Now button, and a circular bar started going around on my screen, with a text label of "listening." Of course, I wasn't ready to make this work with those kinds of constructions. But, after I understood the system from that first time through and the errors I made, the second time was easy. I've found it was a learnable system that I haven't forgot yet.

Flixster (shows movies playing in the area, times, theater address via GPS, ratings of critics and Flixster users, trailers, etc) -- I'd say that the interface design of this app begins with the name of the icon, using "Movies" rather than Flixster. I have so many apps that I might not remember what one called Flixster might do, but I certainly am able to look up movies with this program, which is why I spot it so easily under that label. Then again, it's simple, simple, simple and straightforward to access a lot of information. I don't want to explore an artist's mind with this thing, I just want to know when the movie starts.

Mobile phones and modern education techniques at Abilene Christian University

One of the colleges in Texas, and there are many, really embracing new technology in the classroom:

ACU Mobile Learning from ACU Videos on Vimeo.

Thinking differently about teaching and the learning environment

This video -- created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University -- really challenged my conceptions of a modern classroom and made me think differently about the classes I teach and how I should be doing that, especially in a Digital Technology and Culture program:

Marx and "reification"

I recently finished "iPod and Philosophy" edited by D.E. Wittkower, and an article by Peter D. Schaefer in that book mentioned Marx's idea of "reification," or verdinglichung, which translates to "thingification."

That refers to the ways in which the all-powerful market reduces workers to quantifiable "labor" hours, stripping away all individuality, while simultaneously giving human qualities to the manufactured products, such as iPhones or iPods, whatever gadgets that people tend to love as much as living things (and this iPod book is over the top in its love for Apple gear). This anthropomorphication seems funny or cute on the surface but disturbing in its transference of humanity.

Look at this current Honda commercial, for example, which treats a car like a beloved pet:

Or this Zagg commercial for the Invisible Shield to protect an iPhone, like a loved one:

Marx, at least according to Schaefer's interpretation, demonstrates how the system makes us forget -- or not care about -- the actual work and costs of all sorts that go into a product, from its manufacturing and transportation to its environmental and human impacts. It's really not all about the bottom line, if it takes a person in India a full day of labor to create it and dozens of trees and a bucket of pollution to ship it. The principle of exchange, Schaefer writes, means that every commodity can be reduced to its monetary worth while being disconnected from the human factors involved in its creation. That, I think, leads to some bad decisions by consumers -- who are often unwitting or unaware -- while hard-core capitalists reap the rewards of this ignorance / egocentric behavior.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Two other location-based sites to try

Besides, I also am intrigued right now by GeoGraffiti and Geo Diary, both of which appear to allow information embedded in the ether via GPS coordinates. GeoDiary looks to have more features. GeoGraffiti is simply audio "voice marks." I'm working on a sound scripting project for WSU Vancouver, so the idea of working only in audio is enticing. But if Geo Diary can do that and more, I think I'll just start building there. Will be doing some field research on this and report back.

- Brett

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Upcoming mobile projects

I'm fascinated by location-awareness technology and how that is going to change the world. I have stacks of books and articles on this subject that I'm reading this summer, but I also plan to create a couple of mobile projects to experiment with the form.

First of all, I want to convert my home page,, into a mobile home page. As you can see, it's already designed for that. I just need to make the conversion of the files and try to keep the idea intact in the process.

My second goal is to create some sort of location-based story, incorporating GPS coordinates and multimedia elements that take advantage of these new opportunities. looks like an option. But I'm going to look around, too, to see if there are any more powerful applications available yet. Whrrl looks promising, but it seems somewhat limited at this time (or maybe I just don't know all that it can do). Maybe I can talk to the company about some additional features for beta testing. I'll put that on my list of calls to make.

I'd like to have packets of information (text, audio, video) kept in geographic hot spots that get released as people reach those places. I'm particularly interested right now in starting with sound, such as recorded phone calls being triggered by GPS coordinates and sent to users in that spot. Any suggestions of other software to try?

- Brett

Blobjectifying stuff is good

I support efficiency and cost effectiveness and design focused on completing tasks, but I also think the world would be incredibly boring if everything around us all of the time was strictly functional.

Thankfully, designers, particularly industrial designers, for the past decade or so have been part of a movement to bring more curves and swirls back to our equipment. The Christian Science Monitor provided context on this topic pretty thoroughly, as it related to an art exhibit filled with cuddly gear. This demonstrates an era in design where form no longer feels constrained by function.

Should ornamentation be empty? Should frills be added just to be cute? Of course not. Yet why not make a computer that looks huggable, as the iMac is described? It sure seemed to work for Apple. ... This goes back to a fundamental question of art: Why do we make anything beautiful? We can't really measure the pleasure we get from looking at something that inspires us. That seems to me more about the limits of our tools for understanding., the discovery of a storytelling app for mobile devices

Now might not be the first or the best storytelling application for mobile devices, but it's the first one that I've found, which also makes it the best to date. And since this relates directly to my dissertation topic, and what I want to work on for the next three years, at least, I'm highly intrigued by what they are doing with this site.

It's built primarily for the iPhone, but it does support some content from any other phone with a camera.

In short, it combines photos and text with GPS locations and maps to tell stories of sorts. It also allows multiple users to work on a story at the same time. It has many of the functions I was hoping to find, including privacy settings, so I'll be trying this out sometime soon.

This application is free, and it's being generated out of Seattle, a company called Pelago, which is a major bonus, if I want to try to collaborate at all with those folks. Only about a three hour drive to the north.

I'll post on this as it develops.

- Brett

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Location-based services report from Compete

A fascinating new report from Compete on location-based services.

Some of the findings:

About a third of smart phone users are accessing location-based services at least once a month, primarily for maps (for directions) and weather reports. As the interest grows in this, I see so much potential in many, many areas.

A few companies mentioned in the report already expanding the possibilities:

Buzzd, find nearby restaurants, shops and events

WeFi, apps for WiFi

What are you seeing out there, in terms of location-based services?

- Brett

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Consultant rates in the communication / technical writing field

Getting in the right ballpark in terms of cost is critical to survival as a freelancer. The pitch, proposal and negotiation process is complex, and it's more an art than science. It helps to know the general boundaries, though, and in an effort to continue sharing those, here are some tips I picked up recently from Karen A. Shriver, author of "Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers" and a successful consultant on major national projects but also regional and local ones as well.

She recently spoke at Texas Tech about consulting and efficiently described the job as selling either A) Production skills (redesigning, reevaluating, etc.), B) Advice or strategy (assessing and evaluating options) and/or C) Training (teaching people how to ...).

In the communication field, she said the rate range right now is roughly $50 to $125 an hour for those with master's degrees and $100 to $500 an hour for those with Phds. Those are broad numbers, of course, and many factors shape a bid and job. Yet those looking for starting points on bids might find that scale helpful.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sample query letter for a magazine submission

Another common question, what does a query letter look like, when trying to pitch a magazine story?

The first step is to check the submission guidelines of the publication and determine who exactly will be receiving your query. Also make sure to read the publication beforehand, to determine the tone and style and audience. It helps to look at fixtures in the magazine (recurring features) that might need filling.

Most queries are fairly straightforward, a couple of lines about the angle and idea, followed by the broader approach and potential sources. Only a little biography is needed, since it's really mostly about the idea. Sometimes it is fun to try to add a little spunk. Here is an example of that approach:

Editorial Submissions
XXX The Magazine
123 W. 1st St.
Washington, DC 20049

Put date here


A robber near my home recently ran out of a Kentucky Fried Chicken with his loot and encountered an emerging form of crime fighter: the vigilante granny.
This 66-year-old woman followed the fleeing man in her car, on a hunch. She confronted him, then took chase when he started running. Eventually, she trapped him in a corner, pinned him against a fence, grabbed him in a headlock and waited for the police to catch up.
Forget the cultural stereotype of a little old woman clutching her purse as she shuffles down the sidewalk. A generation of empowered women now has grown older but not necessarily weaker. Some of them aren't standing around anymore while crime or injustice just happens in their neighborhoods.
There was a 75-year-old furious recently with the customer service at Comcast, who brought a hammer into the cable company's office and smashed a computer to make a statement. There was an 80-year-old who tracked down the con artist who bilked her, demanding her money back while wielding a knife. There is a group of elderly women, dubbed the Granny Squad, that patrols the Texas border trying to stop illegal immigration. But none of those stories can match, I think, the bravery and righteousness of what the granny did here in this area. And the danger. The robber was carrying a knife.
This incident could make an interesting short feature or it could be a larger trend piece about these types of Grambo cases appearing throughout the country. I would like to use a narrative approach on the story, either putting readers into the action throughout the work or using those techniques to bookend a bigger trend idea. I see this fitting well in either the general interest section of the magazine or the profiles portion.
As for my background, I worked in daily newspaper journalism for more than 15 years before becoming a freelance writer. I have won many national, regional and state awards for my work. I will send a few clips, and you can see more at I was chosen to be one of the first arts critics in the country to be a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, and I teach journalism and writing at Washington State University as well as other colleges in this area.
I would enjoy talking to you more about this idea and its possibilities. Thank you for the consideration!


Brett Oppegaard
360-521-8150 (c)

Web designer - What is the going rate?

This is a question that comes up often, so I'll address it here.

Every job is different, of course, and there are many factors to consider before making a web design bid, like any freelance bid. But there are standard considerations and rates that can help you in the process of projecting costs.

Those include recognizing and accounting for the five-step process involved in creating a web page:

* Concept (determining who the users are, what they use the site for and how they use the site, layered with aesthetic, navigational and maintenance plans)
* Design (thematically, how the pages and sub-pages are going to be designed for maximum efficiency, effectiveness and coherence, including plans for visual elements and page framework)
* Coding (creating the page in the most appropriate computer language)
* Copy writing (content design, from headers to body text to rhetoric and reputation management)
* And coordination (through an iterative process, putting it together and making sure it all works as intended for 100 percent customer satisfaction)

It is difficult to generalize about this sort of work hourly, because of the wide variety of factors involved in the creation process, but the standard professional rate for such service is roughly $500 a page, or $100 for each of the five steps of the process per page.

Again, that rate will vary depending on experience, expertise and skills. This is probably not the level for student web designers to work at, but it's an appropriate starting point for most competitive professional bids.

- Brett

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wrapping up a couple of projects

Tonight I put the final polish on two projects, my new home page, and the blog for Camas School District Superintendent Mike Nerland.
The home page, I suppose, will never be done. But I want to launch it now with the capabilities I have in Flash and then work on refining this idea as I learn new techniques in the program. Flash is a very picky critter, very picky. I originally created a couple of buttons for this oPhone concept a few weeks ago. I came back to it, after my trial period had expired, and I could not remember every little minute switch that needed to be switched to get a darn button to work. So I spent a couple of hours banging my head against my desk, and then I signed back up for ($25 a month). It was money well spent, I guess, because after another hour or two, I was able to figure out the tiny little step I had passed over. Can you tell I was frustrated? Anyway, I finally was able to get the button to work, and, like anything I have done in Flash so far, everything looks so much easier in hindsight. Creating a button, adding sound, etc., have all been a snap once I spent hours and hours going over and over the simple 48-step process. Can someone please explain to me why Adobe can't turn a symbol into a button, then make the button follow one of several commons scripts (such as hyperlinking to another page) or keep the option for a custom script, so all the code monkeys of the world could get their kicks.
I really don't dislike programming. I started writing code in the mid-1980s. I basically get the ideas. But it's so very boring to do, and I'd much rather focus on the bigger picture of realizing my vision. That said, I really like the flexibility of Flash. If I can think of it, I pretty much can do it in this program. That's power!
The second project is the blog for the Camas School District's superintendent Mike Nerland. The last few steps were to snap an interesting photo of him and turn that into a banner, which I did tonight. Nerland and public information officer Doreen McKercher were very appreciate of this effort, and they seemed to learn a lot, which made the whole process worthwhile for me.
Now, I just need to turn all of this experience into a huge academic paper. Better spend my energy on that.

- Brett

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Harvest of human feelings

Ran across this harvester of human feelings, called:

We Feel Fine

Not sure what to make of it yet, but it's interesting to explore.

- Brett

Friday, April 10, 2009

A new form of book,The Vook

I've had an idea in my mind for the past few months, about how the future of writing will be a new form of multimedia art that will have to be established and judged on a new scale. This will include technology we know about today, such as hyperlinking and podcasting and video and images. But I suspect it also will incorporate capabilities that haven't even been invented yet, too.

One group that already gets this is the Electronic Literature Organization. There are a variety of other academics and professionals that see the light.

But I haven't found any mainstream business application attempted until I ran across this piece in the New York Times about a Vook. A Vook is essentially a book with video and other digital attachments woven into it.

The Vook company recently put a call out in the area I live, Portland, Ore., to encourage people to try it:

"Social media/Web Producer
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-04-07, 12:03PM PDT

Calling on Portland's creative class. Book junkies, social media mavens we're looking for you too.

This is an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and build your own epic vision of a classic tale.

You may have already read about us in the Times on Sunday ( -- Vook weaves together text, videos, photography and social networking to create a brand new way to experience and interact with books.

We're looking for a handful of tech-savvy, local book lovers who can help us realize this vision. We want you to take your favorite classic book and "Vook" it.

Successful candidates will use our platform and should have:

* A love of fiction, non-fiction, long form and short stories.
* A passion for the web -- natch.
* Familiarity with Wordpress -- a must.
* A clear understanding of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and how to source copyright-free content on the Internet -- required.
* An arts, design, video production background -- bonus.
* Literary roots -- over the top.

This is a short-term, contract creative position. Work from home, work from Stumptown. Applicants should submit a resume and links to any on-line portfolio(s). Compensation to be on a completed, per-"Vook" basis."

This is somewhat of the Hundredth Monkey Metaphor, in which enough people start thinking about certain new things in new ways that similar technological eruptions happen in different unrelated places (or at least that's how I would describe the condition).

The distinct art forms now -- theater, dance, music, literature, architecture, poetry, opera, painting, sculpture, etc. -- can all blend together in the digital world, through holograms, computer generated imagery, animation, sound, video and words. That doesn't diminish the original form, just changes it. People who don't like change might as well move to a Pacific Island right now, because we've only begun to see the radical changes that we will experience in the next 50 years.

Art, though, is a product of its time. The context, the innovation, the foresight, that is all part of what makes art so interesting and, in some cases, timeless. Could you imagine some nation today deciding to create the Sphinx? Would anyone stop to look at a Jackson Pollock-styled painting hung in a gallery this month? If "Citizen Kane" was released this week as a modern movie, would anyone consider it great? Would anyone even go? It's ridiculous to take these art innovations out of their time, and it's naive to think that every great art form already exists.

Video games to me are the best current example. Two decades ago, it would have been laughable to suggest that the video game could become an art form. Today, I think it's ridiculous not to consider the video game edging toward that type of credibility. In many ways, the video game has gobbled up other art forms, such as photography, cinema and music, and added the interactivity not technologically possible before to grow into a blended form that could surpass them all in terms of impact on society when hundreds of years have passed.

With the Kindle, and other portable and flexible and durable screens being released already, including ones that can be written on by hand (and translated into typed and searchable text), it's only a matter of time before the printed page will be replaced ... just like film in a camera passed its era of relevance. Will the written word ever disappear? I highly doubt it. It's still (and always will be) a powerful and extremely efficient way to communicate. But could the day come when plain old written words on their own are considered antiquated, like cuneiform?

One comment in this New York Times' Vook article that I thought missed the point was:

"Would we have classics like “The Great Gatsby” if F. Scott Fitzgerald was distracted by the need to give Gatsby a Twitter account?"

The fact is that we will never have another "Great Gatsby" or Sphinx or "Citizen Kane." We will have something else, that could very well be equally great in terms of quality, or even better, but only of this time period, under these conditions. We should appreciate that, instead of always lamenting how wonderful things used to be.

- Brett

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Single sourcing and technology

After reading Ann Rockley's piece "The Impact of Single Sourcing and Technology," I was struck by the idea that everyone is dealing with this sort of issue on some level, not just the media and technical writers.

As a print journalist, I have experienced the drastic increase in demands on media folks. It started so simply in the mid-1990s, when some of us in the newspaper business began posting additional context or photos on the Web. By the time I left my staff writing job in 2007, a single newspaper story could easily be transformed and remediated a half dozen times or more in a day. What in the past could have been a two or three hour job instead turned into a full day's work of shifting and updating. That is not necessarily a positive development in an industry that's radically cutting costs and staff. It takes a lot of time to do this sort of remediation and transforming and continual updating, sucking the energy out of the will to produce new stories. In many cases, it creates a paralysis based on the immediacy of the story, a loop of constant checks to see what has changed since the last call, five minutes before. The problem is, things change constantly on any piece, and there's only so much of this polishing that any sane person can do. Even on breaking stories, which generally deserve this sort of attentiveness, I sense that journalists often have become slaves to the story, rather than insightful messengers of what the narrative really means to the world.

Another issue that arose was the default of: Did you create a photo slideshow for that? Did you create a podcast? Did you create a video? Some stories, frankly, don't work well in those media. Some work wonderfully.

Karen Peterson, Executive Editor at The News Tribune in Tacoma, shared a mantra with me once, "pick the right tool for the right job," and maybe that's a nod to Roy Peter Clark's toolbox metaphor, but I think it rings true regardless of the field in which the remediation effort takes place.

If you are creating a piece about something inherently nonvisual, either find the visual angle on it, or don't try to force it into a video or photoslideshow. Same with a podcast. Don't drone on about something that people don't want to hear. My fallback is a dinner party metaphor, would you want to be stuck in a corner with this piece of media? If not, it's not in the right form, or maybe it shouldn't be created at all.

That last point is a critical one. Just because you or I might have an idea, doesn't mean it's a good one. Just because you can make a podcast on constructing a bicycle, doesn't mean you should. The right tool for the right job.

Before remediating any single source material into a dozen forms, it first might be a good idea to ask why? Does the world really need any more static, or noise? Instead of remediating into a dozen forms, would it be more effective to look closely at what you are creating, and choose the best form for it, and really emphasize quality on that form, playing to its strengths? Unless you are running a highly funded marketing or advertising campaign, I doubt that saturation really is the goal. It's probably to make connections with the people who matter in your business. And that isn't a haphazard task. It probably requires a scalpel, not a chainsaw.

I think all of us are getting better and better at tuning out the noise in our lives. Single sourcing, to me, seems like the foundation of propaganda, the spread of a message rather than information. While in some cases it is convenient to just upload the manual to the web, and it might be better than nothing. But in that same amount of time, could something greater have been created?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pythagorean podcast

A section of a Pierre Schaeffer article I read recently on acousmatics has inspired me to create a podcast about Pythagoras. That philosopher lectured to his students from behind a curtain, so they would focus only on the words he spoke, not the person making the words.

My effort to retell that anecdote is posted here

In essence, the podcast is about the undervalued strengths of sound as a medium.

I originally intended to do more of a standard lecture about podcasts and their places in the new world media. But I wanted to push my abilities as a podcast creator, and fiction producer, and I wanted to try to create something using sound effects and an original script and something that was written in present tense. This all led to Pythagoras, who just happen to be featured in an article I was reading at the time about this topic. It was a spur of the moment decision, that led me down a lot of interesting paths.

The script is based on history but obviously embellished and in some ways campy yeah, that's intentional, uh-huh ,really).

I created the piece on Audacity
, which only crashed a few times during the process (save often!).

The sound effects primarily are from, my favorite Foley source. But I also took some from Creative Commons and a little snippet of a fanfare from Stefan Hagel's fascinating site on ancient Greek music and instruments.

I read a lot about Pythagoras in preparation for creating this script. Not much was really known about him, though, since he didn't write anything down and made his followers vow to never do that either. Nevertheless, I tried to jam in as many of the quirky historical references as I could (hence the camp), just to give the content some of the texture of the research. Listening to it critically afterward, I hear influences ranging from Donny Osmond in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" to Harold Hill in "The Music Man" to the owl in "Bambi" to the Geoffrey Chaucer character in "The Knights Tale," a modern Hollywood version of ""The Canterbury Tales."

This has been a relatively quick project, so please forgive any historical goofs. And the voice talent, or lack of talent, is all me. So you will really need to be kind about that part of the performance. It's bad enough to listen to yourself on a recording, but imagine trying to generate more than a half dozen distinct characters with an untrained voice. Trust me, as an arts critic for more than a decade, it's more painful for me to listen to this than you.

That said, I'm content with many aspects of the final product. I think much of the sound mixing turned out pretty much how I imagined it. The script has some strong sections (and some weak ones, too). The historical anecdote is abstract enough to be interesting from a lot of different angles. I hope I conveyed that. This is the longest fiction piece I've created to date, and with the most sound layers. So I'm stretching my skills. Fiction is so much more difficult than nonfiction for me, with my training as a journalist. I've learned over many years what to listen for from a source, and to get that into my story. I can detach from the foibles of the speaker, because that is what makes the voice feel authentic.

The freedom of fiction also is a burden in the sense that all flaws lead directly back to me, as the author, and if they aren't intentional ... Oy! Anyway, I hope you find something interesting in this production. It was fun to create, and I'm definitely going to be working on more material like this in the future. Please give me feedback, and I'll try my best to get better and better at it.

- Brett

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Looking at homepages

My class at Texas Tech right now, Online Publishing, has been studying the art of homepages, particularly focused on portfolios and academic needs. We've been asked to give a couple of comments on each. So here they are:

Chris Andrews
An opportunity for improvement: The thematic colors feel drab to me. Maybe it's the grainy post-industrial feel desired, and it certainly is different than most sites, but it also tires my eyes fairly quickly.
My favorite aspect so far: There are many parts of this page and site that I think are engaging. Definitely feels experimentational and edgy, with the unusual color choices and abstract entry point. I don't know why, maybe because it was something that caught me by surprise, but I spent way too much time trying to figure out how the arm worked on the "current research and projects" page.

Jessica Badger

An opportunity for improvement: A "before" and "after" flash animation would be an interesting way to hook people on the site.
My favorite aspect so far: The personal story, yet universal story, told clearly, is fantastic asset.

Sharba Chowdhury
An opportunity for improvement: When reading about Calcutta, and India, it would be helpful to see some of the places being described. This area is so far removed from my experiences that I really need help imagining it.
My favorite aspect so far: The site design is efficient and straightforward. Easy to navigate and explore.

Dominic Evans

An opportunity for improvement: Some movement, animation or video, could bring even more life to this site. How about a mouseover that opens the front door?
My favorite aspect so far: The colors on that opening page just grabbed me, like a vibrantly decorated sandwich board, and made me want to go inside the site. Thematically, once in there, it did feel like a cool clubhouse.

Shawna Hayden
An opportunity for improvement: Who is the intended audience for this page? Is it simply informational? Or, if the goal is to get potential clients to make contact, could some of the text snippets be written more with that in mind?
My favorite aspect so far: The falling colorful blocks that serve as portal entries are very cheerful and inviting. Easy to navigate.

Adrian Jackson

An opportunity for improvement: Site consistency. For example, not sure why different sets of buttons are in separate places.
My favorite aspect so far: The fly-in text and pulsating flower give a touch of action. The animation of the buttons, too, makes the page lively.

Carie Lambert
An opportunity for improvement: Color theme is virtually monochromatic. Without action or much contrast, either, this makes the site flat visually.
My favorite aspect so far: Easy to navigate and get to the information promised, which is delivered.

Ashley Owen
An opportunity for improvement: More pizazz could help, to separate this page from the pack. Maybe something that personalizes it.
My favorite aspect so far: Clean layout, with well-defined portals into the content.

Melody Wainscott
An opportunity for improvement: More content would give visitors additional reasons to stay longer and look around.
My favorite aspect so far: The mouseover-and-click option on a part of a photo (in this case a person) is really effective at getting a visitor to explore an image.

Rebecca Widder

An opportunity for improvement: Wallpaper overwhelms the rest of the content.
My favorite aspect so far: A professional window into a person's career and life but with some personal touches.

Monica Wesley
An opportunity for improvement: The original artwork seems underplayed. This kind of illustrative talent should be center stage, not buried in a button, creating entry points for the rest of the unique skills.
My favorite aspect so far: Elegant and nuanced in color and style combined with easy navigation.

And here is the work I've done in redesigning my homepage, which primarily has just been focused so far on the opening interface. I have a plan now that I think will carry through to all of the pages and any expansion I want for the foreseeable future. So look for more changes in the next few weeks and months, especially on the portfolio pages. Let me know what you think of my efforts, or if you visit any of the other pages in the class mentioned here, I'm sure they would all appreciate the feedback as well. Any tips from you out there?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

A blog (and essentially a podcast, too) I want to make sure to highlight as well is Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog by the Whedon clan, including Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and other shows.

This is a short musical, about 40 minutes, originally created for Web distribution during the Hollywood writers strike. It's built upon a love triangle among Dr. Horrible, an aspiring supervillain, Capt. Hammer, the good guy, and the girl they both love, Penny. Very ambitious, funny and worth a look.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The value of podcasts

Podcasts at this point in their development are most often radio-like segments that feature either a single voice, or a voice over music, or maybe, a couple of people talking to each other. The value in that, I suppose, is hearing those voices gives additional context (through inflection and tone and emphasis) beyond the transcript. But I think the potential for podcasts is much higher, particularly in relation to interactive digital storytelling. When working in conjunction with other modern means, such as hypertext and digital video and clickable photos, these little seeds of audio could be a powerful narrative engine to add to the mix. Like the package/briefcase/note in every mystery story that just begs to be opened.
A few have seen the value in digital audio production that virtually brings us back to the heyday of radio, when The Mercury Theatre ruled the airwaves with its presentations of fascinating and provocative stories, including its infamous "War of the Worlds" broadcast. What has been lost in the rise of television and movies is the pure energy that sound on its own provides, and the side effect has been a video-induced laziness that has lured our culture into predominately using only one of our senses, funneling every experience through the lens of sight.
Podcasts can do virtually anything radio can do, except reach people unexpectedly. Like the best of the modern media, they can relate news, opinion, guides, journals, features, sports, statistics, reviews, etc.
National Public Radio right now, and The BBC have taken radio empires and adjusted them to this new delivery system. But the world is so much richer by not relying only on the companies that can afford large towers and FCC licenses. Try out any of the podcatchers around, such as MediaFly (others include iTunes, Juice, Nimiq and FeedDemon), and you'll begin to see the creativity and individuality that podcasting allows.
That said, the best of the work, at least in terms of production value, still comes from the usual suspects. Here are just a few examples:
* NPR's piece about bar-code hopping in SanFrancisco
* A KCRW tourism show, including a visit to Austin, Texas, for SXSW
* Or how about a vacation ... to Antarctica, by NPR
There are so many fantastic podcasts like that by radio veterans -- NPR, KCRW, BBC and the like -- at least in terms of the nonfiction content available, that competing voices will have to become quite sophisticated to compete. Or they will have to take a different tact, maybe a direction that didn't make sense before the dynamics of podcasting came into play. Fortunately, the costs of setting up a podcasting studio are minimal, at least compared to the historical costs of creating a competing radio station. A quiet place, with good acoustics (a small bathroom, or large closet, perhaps), a high quality microphone, and, at least in the beginning, a low-cost or free sound editing software, such as GarageBand (Mac) or Audacity (PC).
Intriguing to me are the ways in which podcasts can be used that radio isn't. Once again Web 2.0 interactivity should be considered. Can small-scale controllable bits of audio generate an interactive forum? I think so, but I haven't found any high quality examples. Can podcasts provoke action in superior ways to the generally passive radio audiences? I think so, but again, I'm not seeing that yet. Time shifting is important in the value of podcasts. So is the niche market. With commercial radio stations becoming less and less personal, and less and less local, can podcasts be the new voice in the air that talks directly to its listener? Can a new wave of unique and unusual voices reclaim the power of one of our lost senses? I'll be listening.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Action is the highest form of thought"

In terms of interactive narrative, that statement from Mark Stephen Meadows' "Pause & Effect" emphasizes to me the importance of plot development. If a story isn't moving, isn't revealing new pearls to follow, new doors to open, or isn't compelling the user to do anything, it's dead in the water. Plot development and character development are two essential features of story. More on character in a moment, but plot, or action, first, because of the two, I'd say action is more critical than even character.
By the way, stories typically need at least some exposition as well, but exposition is like listening to the voice from the loudspeaker. Just a little bit, just a few words or lines of it, goes a long way. Ideally, all orientation material and plot and character for that matter comes from within the action of the story, which leads back to the initial point.
I'm not sure, though, if action can function completely independent of character. I feel confident in saying that whatever character, however exquisite the rendering, will not hold an observer's interest if that character doesn't do something ... anything. Yet, I also think action without character can be just as pointless. For example, if I turn on a football game, and the blue team is playing the red, and I don't know any of the players on the field, or anything about the teams, why would I care what happens? Even if I watch closely, and one player seems to be doing extraordinary things, why would I care? Maybe that's what he is supposed to be doing. His story is obscured to me, without the context of a name, some details about him, about the team, expectations, etc. I think of the talking heads at sporting events as context creators. They tell me who the teams are, who the players are who typically do well, what the archetypal situation is (a la David vs. Goliath), etc. Only then do I begin to care that one of the players is exceeding expectations and having a great game to lead to an "upset." Or one of the players isn't having the effect on the game he should have. Or that the team is missing its star quarterback, which is why it can't pass the ball very well. Without that context, the action is meaningless. And any meaning I might make is meaningless to anyone else.
In terms of any other story, will I really care about anyone doing anything if I don't know who they are and what they are supposed to be doing and how that is turning out? That seems to be the essence of the magnetism of a narrative. We want to know what happens but also to whom. That little bit of mystery keeps us engaged. And if the mystery isn't there, we create the mystery. It's like when you see a car drive by and begin wondering: who is that person, why is that person here, where is that person going, why is it so important for that person to get there? And then, maybe, you begin to wonder: How does that person spend the rest of the day? That investment in character attaches a person to the action. If the same car zips by, and I don't look up or wonder, the action is happening, but I'm not engaged at all by the story.
Yet I can know as much as possible about a character, and be really interested in that person, but if the person isn't doing anything at that moment, isn't engaged in some activity, including thinking about doing something, then why would I want to experience that part of the story? A compelling narrative edits out the boring parts of life. The routine -- eating, chores, driving, sleeping, etc. -- as well as the mundane -- staff meetings, dinner party small talk, exercising -- takes up most of our lives. But it's the action in between that you want to tell your friends about. That's the exciting content people who encounter your stories want to experience as well.
Yet when creating a digital narrative, technical considerations also come into play. Meadows defines some of those choices as: Responsiveness versus resolution, or how well does something look on screen versus how well does it move; optimization versus ubiquity, again, how well does something look on screen but this time versus how many people have the technological tools to access it at that high of a level; and third, customization versus design, or how much the user controls the story versus the designer. Budget and intended audience also come into play on that, but tough decisions like those join the plot-versus-character debate for digital narratives. So while action might be the highest form of thought, and the engine of all stories, I don't think it can work entirely alone when creating a narrative.
My question, then, is about the base power of action. Why does it move us so? Why are we captivated by the slightest amount of movement? Think of a movie in which the actor is doing not much more than putting on a coat, or taking a bite to eat, that little bit of action makes a scene much more watchable than if the person was just staring into the camera and reciting the same exact line.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Children's book editor available

This former Scholastic editor, who came across as quite warm and considerate at a recent OR-SCBWI conference I attended, is available for editing help at what appears to be a quite reasonable rate.

This is the note I received recently from SCBWI:

"Erin Molta, who was a well-loved guest editor at our 2007 conference
(and who has published a few Oregon SCBWI members), was recently one
of the talented folks whose job was *deleted* at Scholastic. While
she is pursuing leads for a new job, I asked if she was willing to
take on a little freelance editing work. She thought about it and
decided, sure! So here is her blurb:

Do you have a manuscript with no zip? Is the ending escaping you? Has
an editor told you your characters need to be developed more? I have
twenty years experience editing children's books--from picture books,
easy readers, chapter books to middle grade and YA novels. I can help
you bring your language up or down to fit an easy reader level or
trim text in a beautiful but wordy picture book.

If you e-mail me, Erin Molta, your manuscript as an attachment to and specify what your concerns are, I will provide
a detailed editorial letter that addresses those issues and any
others that I think might help you in your pursuit of publication.

I charge $25.00 per hour, payable via PayPal, which includes the
reading of the manuscript and the editorial letter."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Just a thought about instructions, story

I was playing The Ladybug Game today with my children for the first time and was surprised to find that it didn't come with instructions. I told my kids that there must be something somewhere in the box or on the box or in the cards, because you can't make a game without providing instructions. My oldest daughter just started making up the rules, and we began manipulating the game pieces, and we came up with a format that worked for us. In fact, it was quite fun! And then, once we established the gameplay, we kept continually refining it. The game did provide a short story about what happened to the characters in the game, and the board was shaped in a particular way, which guided us in the development of our format. It also made me start thinking about how much more interaction and engagement was involved in playing the way we did. Maybe the best way to create interactive narratives is to start with nothing, except a few pieces and tools and an environment, and let the player broadly determine what comes next. It sure works in childplay, so does it lose its value later because many adults have atrophied imaginations? Or is it just that most adults have had the idea of complete freedom of choice hammered out of them?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Of interactive narratives and home pages

One of my primary web design goals recently has been to convert my static Web 1.0 homepage at into a Web 2.0 portal of interactive excitement (or at least to take a few steps in that direction). It has become a significant journey of personal, professional and technical growth.
It felt right to start where I did, essentially a summary page of what I offer online. But as I look around the Web, and I think about why anyone would bother to come to my pages, I think the homepage should be more interesting and informative and even a little bit of fun for users. So my concept has been developing along with my increased interest in the rise of mobile technology. I'm not an avid cellular phone user, but it seems absolutely clear to me that as cell phones -- particularly those like the touch pad iPhones, which don't require typing or even reading -- give virtually everyone easy access to the power of the Internet, the Web will soon be making another major leap in the market and become as Mark Weiser, former Chief Technology Officer of Xerox-PARC, once predicted, "ubiquitous." To pay homage to the power of the phone in our lives today, and where I think it's going in the future, I've designed my page around the phone metaphor, letting it dial into my space in various ways. I also think this would translate well to people who access my site via phone. I will post that soon, I hope. I want to continue to develop it through various buttons and gizmos, of course. In addition, I want to incorporate my continuing interest in storytelling and narrative construction, particularly interactive narratives. But this is at least the first step.
For direction, I look to Mark Stephen Meadows again and his passage on Ralph Koster, who served as the lead designer of Ultima Online, and who early on identified two distinct paths of interactive narrative. The first he called "impositional," the style of story design in which the creators maintain most of the control, giving users limited choices in which to complete a few different branching narrative arcs. The other style he calls "expressive." That is more like architecture, designed for use but also exploration. In that, the story creator sets up a framework and the user does the rest, including reaching self-determined goals and following user-controlled direction and pace.
Just as my homepage had to go from static to the next phase, I think it's properly evolutionary for me to aim for gaining some impositional experience first before reaching for the brass ring of expressive. Also, I'm not sure the purpose of my site, at least as I'm envisioning it now, responds as well to the expressive style as it does to the impositional outlook of: I'm going to give you some freedom to move around here and see different things. But I'm not trying to create an environment like a weak facsimile of "The Sims," either.
Speaking of "The Sims," video games and movie/DVD web sites right now are so far ahead of everyone else, I often find myself in awe of what they are accomplishing, particularly in comparison to the baby steps being taken by the news media, which could have just as much to gain, if not more, by the increased interest people have in information.
When a company like IonStorm, for example, calls its game, "Deus Ex Machina," or "God From the Machine," I begin to feel that I'm taking part in an almost spiritual awakening of humanity in our potential for intelligence and connection and worldwide partnerships, only at the same time realizing that most of the best ideas seem to be coming from the entertainment industry and most energy funneled in that direction, creating just more and more distractions and ways for people to escape reality. In the meantime, "real" news is withering under the spotlight in which Paris Hilton's hijinks compete head to head with local city council agendas, bringing to mind Neil Postman's prophetic book "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business." I'm quickly stepping off the soapbox, though, and getting back to the matter at hand, the homepage.
Another inspiration to me has been author Scott McCloud's,, use of the metaphor of a monitor as a window, into which we can see limitless possibilities, such as a comic on a rotating cube or covering a globe. I hope that before I'm done I can create something uniquely digital, not just something remediated, something that takes full advantage of these incredible tools we now have available in new and innovative ways.
During this redesign process, learning about the possibilities, I've also been immersed in the potential of the tools and how much work it can be to get oriented with those. I'll say, it's not like picking up a hammer and looking for something to strike. I recently bought Adobe's Creative Suite 4 (design edition), which includes Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, Illustrator and InDesign. I also bought a copy of Adobe Premiere Elements. While I've dabbled in all of these before, or similar programs, the little quirks in each has taken a significant amount of time to learn, at least to use in the now more ambitious directions I'm taking. I began just by browsing the many, many free training videos on YouTube and around the web, and I have to say that I quickly learned you get what you pay for. Oy! Many of them are really terrible. Thankfully, though, Adobe gave me a 30-day membership to, and I've been impressed with the design and care and layout of that site. Extremely simple to navigate, and I have learned an incredible amount in a very short time period (although many of those hours have been stolen from my allotted few still assigned to sleep; I was up until 4 a.m. yesterday, paying for it today). My main emphasis recently has been on Flash and its ActionScript 3.0. I guess I naively thought that software today had become primarily point and click, but this one still needs a significant amount of coding. The possibilities, though, are amazing. I also have been delving into the world of public domain media -- images and sound and video -- to help supplement what I have, and I've been impressed with the growing amount of content available for such use. Which brings me to a couple of questions for you. What are your favorite places to get online software training (particularly if that can be had at no cost)? And where do you prowl around for public domain media? Please share any sites I should be visiting. Thanks!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jakob Nielsen's column

Ran across this column today, and its backlog, which covers many interesting issues in web usability and design. It's put together by Dr. Jakob Nielsen, who calls it "Alertbox," and from what I've read so far, it appears to be aimed at a general audience, yet with enough detail to keep more techie readers engaged as well.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Searching for a metaphor

With my home page redesign due in less than a month, I seriously need to figure out how I'm going to reach my goal of making an interactive site out of what essentially is an online portfolio, blog and student hub for the classes I teach. How boring is that! ... So I'm turning again to Meadows in “Pause & Effect,” who describes the key stages of interaction: 1. Observation, 2. Exploration, 3. Modification and 4. Reciprocal change. He then later layers on the parallel storytelling stages of: 1. Fascination, 2. Captivation, 3. Investment and 4. Interest. With this site, I want visitors to get to know me (at least to a certain degree), and I want them to see what I've done and what I can do in this medium and others, including writing, publishing and teaching. For them to be even close to “fascinated,” though, I'm going to have to develop a much stronger entry point at Something abstract, yet something that sets an appropriate tone for what I'm going to deliver. Inspired by Meadows' look at perspective, I'm going to attempt to create an interactive portrait, so that the first thing someone sees at my home page is me looking right back at them. Only it won't really be me, exactly, more of a dynamic representation of me, or parts of me, that would encourage a visitor to explore and peer past this facade I've created and go inside my online space. While Meadows states most designers concern themselves only with outside-the-skull interactivity, (how long the page takes to load, etc.), I think my hesitation lies heavily on the inside-the-skull interaction, or what is this going to mean to the people who come to this site. If prospective employers look, what will they think? If my friends look, what reaction will they have? If strangers come by, how will they respond? It's almost a target audience issue, more than anything else. Since I'm asking this site to do a variety of things, and appeal to a variety of people, I'm having trouble visualizing an entry point that will satisfy (and intrigue) them all. I think it would be so much easier if I had a site set up just for prospective employers, and another one just for friends, and another just for my teaching, and another just for other interests I might have. Maybe that's my true solution, to turn into nothing but a portal that sends people to different pages (while I can send them there directly, too, when I choose, and bypass the entry point), and then the work of consistency and focus can be left to those pages as they are designed for their uses. The input / output that Meadows describes, creating an interaction cycle, becomes difficult the more ways I'm pulling people, who probably won't be interested in more than one section of this site. I'm really struggling with that overlay, I suppose. Maybe it's the metaphor. Maybe it should be doors, like Meadows shows, and someone rings the doorbell of one door, and it opens to the portfolio. And maybe the next door opens to teaching. I'm starting to like that idea more and more. That would give me some input / output at the beginning, doors that people could open and shut or go into. I'll explore that idea as well in the next couple of weeks. And maybe think of similar metaphors. Like C.S. Lewis' wardrobe. Hmmm, I think I might be on to something. What else can be used as a portal? A pool of water, a hole, a cave, a closet, a phone line. How about a series of phones that are ringing, and the user can choose to answer one. Or just pick one up, like the Bat Phone, or the Red Phone, or whatever. With the way mobile computing is going, I think the phone will become even a stronger metaphor in years to come. There certainly are a lot of buttons on a phone, and these buttons could do a lot of things, input-output wise. Can I technically pull that off? That's a big question. And I'm not even in the ballpark yet of Meadows idea of an open system, versus a closed system, or, in other words, one that the user can change and improve. How about a ringing phone? The user clicks on the phone to answer it. That starts the adventure ... I'm going to work on that. Questions: To what degree does a person need to be a full-time web designer with years of programming experience to create a compelling and interactive page? Is it more about concept than coding, like someone shooting a fabulous movie entirely on a hand-held?

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