The Dog ate my Blog

Posted by on Sunday August 3 2008

OK, not really, but I couldn’t think of a valid excuse as to why I haven’t blogged for a while, aside from having a job that got really busy for some reason. I thought I signed up for a much cushier number but apparently not. Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that I actually have been earning my pay over the last couple of months.

Part of my time was also taken up writing an article on interactive multimedia in museums. I spent some time reviewing the history which was a nice trip down memory lane. For those of you who’ve been around for a while, check out this early Archives and Museum Informatics Technical Report, Interactive Multimedia in American Museums by Stephanie Eva Koester.

I was reviewing some of the software we used to deliver interactives ‘back in the day’. In the late 80’s we made extensive use of HyperCard (an Apple Product), an extremely elegant prgramming and database environment, which I don’t think has been equaled. We used it for many things including a RAD (Rapid Application Development) tool and also what we then called Editorial Workbenches, but in reality were content management systems. We also delivered at least one museum interactive for the Design Museum using it on a Mac SE (I think, Ben?). I’ve always been a fan of HyperCard, so I was interested to learn that according to Ward Cunningham, the inventor of wikis, the wiki concept can be traced back to a HyperCard stack he wrote, WikiWikiHyperCard, in the late 1980s, making HyperCard one of the grandparents of the Wiki idea. Incidently, I’m not sure I believe Ward’s reason for calling it Wiki-Wiki, I think he was influenced by a this classic Old Skool toon: Newcleus – Jam On Revenge.

One of the biggest drawbacks of HyperCard was that it didn’t support colour, then in the late 80′s SuperCard debuted, created by Bill Appleton whose name was curiously similar to HyperCard’s creator Bill Atkinson. Anyway, in my opinion SuperCard was shite, HyperCard ruled. In a dirty-laundry-expose anecdote: when I first joined the Getty in 2000 we needed a prototype online store management application, so I built one in HyperCard. Yup, you guessed it, we’re still using it to deliver our Getty Bookstore. Its running on OSX in classic mode AND its integrated with our content management system, Teamsite. I can’t decide whether I’m proud or ashamed of this fact, but hey, if it works…

I had various conversations with people over the summer who were, curiously, wanting my advice on technology for their institution and I can tell you that all of them had similar dirty laundry confessions of aged technology, either inappropriately or appropriately integrated with some much newer technology. I’m thinking about a session at AAM in Philly titled Dirty Laundry, which will be a cathartic, group therapy session in which we all air our embarassing technology confessions: “Hi my name’s Nik and I’m still using Hypercard…”

A number of the conversations I had involved digitisation. My oft-repeated message is that, sadly, there is no magic way to digitise your collection. Its hard work but it pays off and to illustrate the point, I direct them to Google’s Street View. Their initial reaction is HTF did they do that? Well, they drove around every street and took 360 degree photographs – there’s no magic to it – it is hard work. They built some tools to speed the process: 360 degree camera on the roof of a car linked to a GPS, but there was no trick. Likewise, there is no trick to digitising your collection, build some tools to assist if you can, even something that shaves 10 seconds off a single scan will add up.

On the subject of Street View, apparently to alleviate concerns about privacy, Google has begun obscuring faces which makes it look like one giant episode of Cops. A great article in New Scientist, Swapping facial features protects online privacy, demostrates how this needn’t be the case. See Denzel Washington as you’ve never seen him before by clicking the tinyurl link to the Columbia University paper.

On the subject of tinyurls, I’m seeing them more and more. Anyone else concerned about the longevity of this DOI for the poor man?

More Google. Anyone else take a look at the latest young pretender in the “search space” – Cuil. It has some broad claims about having the largest internet index and has an interesting magazine-style presentation which I can’t decide whether I like or not. The most significant thing it has going for it is that it was founded by some ex-googlites, which gives it some cred, but they made a fundamental mistake. Branding is everything. How do you brand a name that you have to explain how its pronounced (BTW, its pronounced “cool”) and how do you compete with a competitor whose name is a verb and described the act of searching. “I googled you on Cuil…”.

With the Olympics coming up, I’ll leave you with this gem as a testament that food and technology don’t mix: Chinese Restaurant – yum!

Filed under: Random Musings

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