NASASocial Reflections

Last week I had the chance to participate in a #NASASocial event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Space Center.  The event was timed to kick-off a weekend of NASA Social events leading up to the Mars Science Laboratory (#MSL) landing on August 5/6. 2012.

For me, this was a dream come true. I’ve wanted to visit KSC ever since I stuffed myself with too many Cheerios in order to get a special Space Shuttle kit in the 80s. Sadly, I never made it to a shuttle launch before the program ended. KSC was high on my to-do list since I moved to Florida, so it was exciting to receive the invitation to the #KSC50 event. The NASASocial team hosted us in the KSC press center for two days of presentations about current NASA programs, especially focusing on the Curiosity mission. We also were able to participate in the first multi-Site NASA social event by joining a live simulcast with MSL scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Lab and other NASA Centers that were hosting similar events). The highlight of the event for me was our tour of early launch sites and getting to go inside the Launch Control Center and Vehicle Assembly Building.


This was my first “social media event” of this type and its given me a lot to ponder. Interestingly, this felt very different than my use of social media during conferences. When I’m at MCN, MW, etc., etc. I have a pretty good idea of who the audience is for my tweets, but here I felt a little spammy. I’m not sure what you all thought of the stream coming at you last week, but I was trying to be somewhat restrained in crossing the streams. I am also a more casual fan of the space program and rank pretty low on the space geek ladder. After arriving, I’d wished I’d done some more reading up about what’s going on at NASA so I could ask our panelists better questions.

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t hear more history during and event cast as a 50th Anniversary celebration. I’m not sure this is a criticism as much as a surprising mismatch of expectations.  We did get to hear from some NASA old-timers who shared some great personal anecdotes about their time at NASA.  We did get a fat copy of This New Ocean, a part of NASA’s historical publications, but little mention was made of NASA’s other historical collections or efforts to document it’s history.  During the event I started tweeting links to oral histories from some of our speakers (Jay Honeycutt, Lee Solid, Roy Tharpe).  As we went around on our bus tour our guide did point out some landmarks, but only provided a little bit of what I’d call interpretation. Throughout the tour I was pulling up information from Wikipedia and other NASA sites about the locations we were visiting (had I thought about it, I should have looked for any dedicated apps related to KSC.  They do seem to have an official app, but the one review doesn’t make it look worth $.99)   I’d be curious to see what kinds of interpretation is offered on the public tour that covers the same area.

My other takeaway from this event, is that I need to work at being social at social events.  I’m usually pretty good in a crowd of people I know, but still shy among strangers.  I sense there was some un-official back channel that I might have tuned into if I’d been a little more aggressive about talking to other attendees.   The organizers seemed to leave this part of being social to us and it has me wondering what impact “icebreakers,” etc. have on these kinds of events.  Compared to my conference experiences, I didn’t see as much direct back-and-forth on Twitter among participants (at least using the NASASocial hashtag).  Again, as a n00b, I may have been missing out on something (and ugh! I could never get the wifi to work right, so I was limited to my phone – regretting my wifi-only iPad this weekend).   From NASA’s perspective, I’m guessing that the events were successful.  The NASASocial tag   trended in the US on both days and seemed to feed the buzz leading up to the landing.

Big thanks to NASASocial for letting me come aboard for this event. It was a great opportunity to learn more about KSC and the MSL Mission.  Since it was my first time participating in an event like this, it also has me thinking hard about how museums can use social media in this way to engage their audiences.  It’s going to provide a great example for my students when we discuss social media and museums later this fall.

(and yes, it’s been a while. Do we really need another “I haven’t been blogging for a while post…I don’t think so!)


On the ways

Tugboat "Neptune" under construction at Jackson and Sharp

Tugboat "Neptune" under construction at Jackson and Sharp. Jackson and Sharp Collection. Courtesy Delaware Public Archives

This will be a short post this week as I’ve decided to use my “study night” to dip my toes into LaTeX tonight (exploring actual dissertation production workflows, weee!).

ways (n.): df. structure consisting of a sloping way down to the water from the place where ships are built or repaired

After creating records for various agents involved in my data,  there remains the data about the vessels themselves.    Again sticking to a pragmatic exploration, I’ll be using the Freebase Ship schema for this data.  Thankfully many of the properties listed here are properties that I already have in my database. I’m still working with Google Regine to clean up my data, but here is how the properties will map.

My Data Freebase Property
ShipName type.object.name
HullNo e.g. DE 107 and/or a particular ID assigned by a shipyard.  (see the Hagley photos for examples at P&J.  I don’t see a Freebase property for this field in my data.
ShipType boats/ship_class/ship_type
HullType (boats/hull_configuration?)
there are no instances of this property in Freebase
ShipPower boats/ship/means_of_propulsion
LOA boats/ship/length_overall
Beam boats/ship/beam
Displace boats/ship/displacement
Tonnage (same as displacement?) hmm..
Draft boats/ship/draught
LaunchDate boat/ship/launched
Fate boat/boat_fate
Yard boats/ship/ship_builder
Designer boats/ship/designer
Owner boats/ship/owners

There seem to be some properties that are part of different, but related Freebase schemas (e.g. boats/ship/displacement and boats/ship_class/displacement_tons) that I need to sort out.  There are also other Freebase properties that don’t map directly to columns in my table (e.g. notableFor),  but may be useful for adding some of the stories around vessels found in my book , a comments field with general notes (and in the banker’s box of research notes that haven’t seen the light of day).

I see another chicken/egg problem looming.  While I have most of the shipyards in my previously created corporate.rdf file and individual shipwrights will follow in people.rdf, I also need to add the individuals/corporations who are owners/agents.  In an early post @jonvoss pointed me towards a Google Refine plugin to rectify linked data.  This seems like a good place to try and deploy this at scale. (hand-crafting a few records for the yards wasn’t too hard,  but there are hundreds of owners/buyers, etc.).  I remain a little skeptical that this will work well.  From what I’ve seen so far of Freebase,  big popular things are represented  but things in the long tail are not. (there’s a research question in there somewhere).

I am also considering using an opaque URI for these vessels, perhaps based on an auto-generated ID number.  The ship names in my database overlap quite a bit, making using names directly in URIs a little dangerous (the same can probably be said for people/corporate names at a global scale – not so much for my limited set).   It may also be possible to use a combination of fields to generate opaque URIs (for example, see Styles, Ayers & Shabir (2008) Semantic MARC, MARC21 and the Semantic Web. LDOW2008.)


Anthologize & User Studies

oy! Sometimes Twitter is not the right medium to have a discussion. Since I have more than 140 characters to say on the Anthologize user study and user experience discussion making the rounds.

Earlier this week Claire Warwick decided to Rain on Anthologize’s Parade; kicking off an active discussion about place of user studies in this kind of digital humanities tool building.

In a tweet earlier today, I suggested not throwing the “user study” out with the bathwater.  I’m realizing now that part of the confusion in this conversation is that “user study” is a somewhat vague term that can mean several things.  In Claire’s post she expressed concern:

I am really pleased that Anthologise had a UX team. But I can’t quite see what serious UX work you can actually do in a week. And this is a problem because if you are going to design something that users really want you need to study them first. You need to talk to them, interview them, observe them, feed back the results of this into the design process, try it again, retest, get more feedback etc.

While there have been several helpful responses from the UX team to Claire’s post (see Kathie’s comment on clarifying that interviews (albeit rapid) were conducted and the expertise of those involved), the comments I’m responding to are the ones that have felt more defensive – along the lines of “but look at all the downloads for @zotero, @omeka, @anthologize!” (sorry Tom) or @clioweb “Most academics write books that other academics haven’t thought of or asked for. No user surveys asking for what they want.”

Maybe it’s unfair to get my feathers ruffled about those (given the work that was done), but there has been less articulation of what sounds to me like a participatory design process.  Rather than gathering requirements, they gathered people who are representative of  users who would want Anthologize. While that’s different than the survey/interview/analysis process, it is a legitimate approach in and of itself.   As is the rapid/agile kind of development  I’ve seen come out of CHNM shops.   I think proudly owning these approaches and articulating them more clearly would be a better response than pointing to the number of downloads or devaluing different approaches.  (and as I’ve been writing, it seems like that’s been happening on twitter).   This isn’t an argument about involving users, but rather what methods should we use?

While scholars may not conduct a survey to decide what the topic of their next book is (sorry Jeremy),  the book (and it still is a book at this point, no?) that they do write is bounded by currently accepted practice – or it makes a case for a new set of practices.   Perhaps this conversation can open up a new round of discussion about what UX means for the digital humanities,  particularly an exploration of what kinds of UX methods most benefit the kinds of projects we are undertaking.   Talking about “users studies” isn’t very helpful if you don’t know who they are (or who you’d like them to be).   If your developer is just a developer, scratching their itches might not be the best approach. But what if your developer is also a recognized humanities scholar who is blending their expertise to create new tools?  How are the UX methods that have emerged from corporate development environments compatible with humanities scholarship and tools?  UX methods are often grounded in different kinds of social science – quantitative surveys, qualitative ethnography, structured interviews, etc. Is there a humanist UX approach that has been overlooked? (thinking about Johanna Drucker’s critiques of  visualization at the MIT Hyperstudio conference). How do you match the effort at UX with the overall budget of the project (just how much did One Week cost anyway?).  What are the right forums for sharing the scholarship of studying humanities tools?  Kathie says that there will be ongoing work in this direction, I would be interested in hearing more about what that research will look like.

As a final word on this, there are worse ways of going about this.   I’ve worked on projects that did user studies and then ignored much of what was learned to produce inferior (IMHO) products.   My own user-centered work is often hampered because I don’t have the development chops I need to give people what they want.  As much as Anthologize is about a product,  it’s also about building a community that has the ability to support the tool as it grows and evolves.   Already on-board are people who can commit code changes.   What’s the vision for including people conducting systematic UX evaluation and assessment? (as opposed to the anecdotal stream of bug reports and feature requests that will come in.)


LOC and Social Tagging

The Library of Congress is cooperating with Flickr to engage the public in sharing and tagging images from LOC’s collections through a new feature called The Commons.

While I tag my own stuff, haven’t participated much in social tagging efforts for other people’s stuff. Well…unless you count tagging websites in del.icio.us, or locations in Second Life using Gridmarker.

I spent a little time adding tags to the Steve project but haven’t felt very compelled to spend alot of time there. But then, my interests and expertise is not in art. While I enjoy going to an art museum, I don’t feel very compelled to spend time tagging art images. It’s just not my thing.

I though Making of Modern Michigan’s use of Wikimedia was particularly novel, but I don’t know much about Michigan to contribute.

I do however know far more than I ever expected to about Delaware, where I lived and worked for about 5 years. Without dragging the box of research notes out of the closet, let’s see what we can find……

From the New York TImes historical archive we learn that in fact the Lydonia was built in Wilmington, DE for W.A. Lydon of Chicago. At the time, Lydon was Commodore of the Chicago Yacht Club. According to the Times article, she was the Queen of the Lake Michigan Fleet. In 1917 Lydon turned her over the U.S. Government to be used as an auxiliary vessel.

From a Men of Affairs digitized by the University of Illinois for the Open Content Alliance project we learn:


AS A contractor and a master of dredges Mr.
Lydon has won his fame. He understands
all the difficulties and dangers in scooping out the
bed of a river, widening a stream, creating a
harbor, overcoming a sand bank or blowing up a
reef. Of the Chicago river and the harbors of
Lake Michigan he is the expert master in keeping
them to navigable depths, safe for all kinds of
shipping. His firm is known over the entire Great
Lakes district as that of Lydon &, Drews. His
monster dredging apparatuses are visible where –
ever a channel is to be created. All of the
important work required by the United States
government to bring the Chicago river to its legal
navigable depth has been performed under the
direction of Mr. Lydon.”

With a little more digging, I’m pretty sure that Pusey & Jones’ records would show that Lydon’s company also purchased workboats, tugs and barges from them. Many of the P&J yachts were constructed for clients who also had contracted with them for other vessels.

Lydonia would be designated SP-700 by the U.S. Navy and sent on patrol duties off of Gibraltar where she assisted in the sinking of UB-70. She was eventually decommissioned and transferred to the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. (more information and photos of the Lydonia in service at the Naval Historical Center, and the Dictionary of American Fighting Ships.

Lydonia (Lydonia

According to this site, Lydonia was host to President Coolidge in April 1927.

Lydonia‘s specs:

  • LOA: 214 feet
  • LWL: 172 feet
  • Beam: 26 feet
  • Draught: 12 feet
  • Designer: William Gardner
  • Builder: Pusey & Jones Shipyard, Wilmington, DE

Well, folks, how’s that for an example of what sharing via Flickr and opening your collections up to social networking can do for ya?


Body Swap

Body Swap

Originally uploaded by Musebrarian

grumble grumble…

I logged in tonight to join the NMC’s Buzz session on Plork “a reflection on adults at play and work” (get it PLay wORK – PLORK).

On logging in I was confronted with this rather shapely version of myself. Not too bad, but I wasn’t ready to set off to the event dressed like this! This isn’t the first gender bending accident I’ve had in Second Life so I followed the same procedure I had last time that brought me back to my testosterone infused alter ego. (Aeth has more time to go to the gym than I do…) No luck…in fact it made it worse Second Life froze and refused to open…so I downloaded the new client. Still “body part not found in database” Now I’ve been busy and have been joking that I’d loose my head if it wasn’t screwed on. Apparently this is not the case in SL where one’s parts can easily be mislaid (anyone else humming King Missle?). While I’m busy looking for my parts near St. Marks Place, time is ticking away and so is the opportunity to gnash on some plork.

I think I am most peeved because I recently had spent a fair amount of time getting Aeth to look less like a Ken doll and more like me. We’ve been talking about the “emotion work” researchers sometimes have to do when using qualitative methods – this ruffling of my virtual persona has me more upset that probably is warranted. I’ll hang onto that for now, it seems like a thread that may need to be tugged on later.

No fresh plork for me…real work is calling (I’ll let you know how work on the PlayhD is coming later).


I just finished transcribing the first interview for some research that I’m doing…whew..its been a long time since I’ve done this…see kids when I started doing this there were things called “cassettes”…I digress.

Things have changed since then – I found a great little OS X tool called Transcriva
that gives you a chat-like interface for transcribing each speaker. It keeps track of time codes and marks a little colored tick so you can see where each stops and starts. Very helpful when you want to pick up where you left off. Transcriva lets you export it out as an RTF or as text – with timestamps and speaker names inserted.

The free download watermarks the export and only lets you run for 20minutes straight – not too bad as you really need to take a break every 20 minutes or so anyway.

Now if I could just get this #&^@#%@* Sony foot pedal to work with my Mac, I’d be cooking…

Bartus also makes something called Temporus that looks like an equally easy app for making timelines. It’s supposed to work with Transcriva so you can get a timeline of a conversation. Not sure I see the benefits of that for what I’m doing, but would be quite useful say for transcribing a state of the union address or a new program. Temporus says it will export an “plist” XML file – apparently something Apple cooked up called a property list. You can also create a PDF, TIFF, or CSV.

I’m always on the lookout for timeline software…someone made a WordPress plugin that creates a SIMILE timeline out of your posts. I’ll need to give that a try…


Tommy Makem: RIP

via Darth Libris

“Isn’t it grand, boys?”
Singer and songwriter Tommy Makem, who rose to fame performing with the Clancy Brothers, has died at the age of 74 from cancer.

Let’s not have a sniffle,
Let’s have a bloody good cry.
And always remember the longer you live,
The sooner you’ll bloody-well die.

Watch a video (stupid YouTube embedding broken…ggrrr)

Old news by now – see what happens when you drop out of the world for a week… I grew up listening to the Clancy Brothers and have seen them live several time – the best being in the tiny small venue of the Tin Angel in Philly. If you haven’t read it, the Liam Clancy’s autobiography The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour provides a fascinating inside look at their lives.