mapping

Treaty of Greens: Generate this! (Reflections)

Treaty of Greens (generative poem)

Reflection 1

As a person who isn’t that into traditional poetry, I was less than enthused with an assignment that was labeled as “generative poetry.” In traditional poetry, I typically pick a specific subject or mood and run with that, so I did the same approach with this assignment. At the beginning of this assignment, I was in the process of writing a theorized letter to my CEO (at Walgreens), where I argued the lack of love for cashiers. I was feeling pretty passionate about my job, so that’s how I stumbled upon Walgreens as my subject matter. I planned on creating a poem that showed the virtues and triumphs of cashiers, until I had a terrible day at work. My goal evolved into showing the “dark side” of Walgreens.

The word choice part was pretty easy, at least in comparison to traditional poetry. I decided to have one group of words that portrayed more to my job title, and another category of words that portrayed to the customer. I decided to capitalize words that would show anger or aggression, or other words that could relate to such a subject. For example, I capitalized ASSHOLES because that’s typically something cashiers scream in their head at rude customers. In a different light, I capitalized PATIENCE because it’s something most customers seem to lack. I think by capitalizing certain words this emphasizes certain points in the poem, which seems to add a nice touch. Furthermore, this creates contrast. The verbs were a little bit more difficult to come up with, for some reason I cannot explain. I think part of it is because I was trying too hard to think of unique verbs. I felt that most of the verbs I managed to scrounge up were rather boring and didn’t paint a picture, but I wanted the verbs to relate to Walgreens. I did manage to get a few odd verbs in there as “engulf”, “defecates”, and “delegate”. These are still loosely tied to the job of a cashier, especially at my store, and I think it really puts a twist on the generative poem.

As mentioned previously, I wasn’t crazy about traditional poetry before this, so I wasn’t too excited for this assignment. While I didn’t love this assignment, I did enjoy that I could essentially have a computer create a poem for me, only each time it would magnificently different than the previous time. This poem definitely challenged me to rethink how poetry is composed in general. By creating poetry in this way, through code, it really changed what poetry can be. It helped me see that poetry, whether through code or traditional, follows some type of pattern with words. However, the generative poetry really expands poetry. Instead of having a traditional sentence, that most people would write, generative poetry can create these crazy, enlightening sentences that one would never think of creating. It’s this aspect that has challenged me to really rethink poetry; maybe I didn’t like traditional poetry because of all of the constraints and limitations. This generative poem has helped me see that anything can be poetry; I don’t need to conform to certain poetry idealism’s in order to create a great poem. Furthermore, this assignment has helped me to start to consider that code itself is poetry; it follows a certain pattern, adheres to certain rules, and creates meaning in something.

Reflection 2:

There are many people in society today who don’t believe that this very assignment on generative poetry is not a true form of literature; we could even argue that there is one of those nonbelievers among our graduate course (cough Jason cough). It’s understandable for most readers to first assume that generative poetry is unlike traditional poetry and literature in general, but after studying it and learning the essence behind codes, it can be argued that there really is no difference at all.

In Perspectives on Ergodic Literature Espen Aarseth (1997) argues that cyber text focuses on the “mechanical organization of the text, by posting the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange,” (p. 1). In simpler terms, the computer is not just the medium, it’s part of the text too.  Aarseth further argues that cyber text is no different from other texts because all literature is different for every reader, the reader has to make choices in order to make sense of the text, and a text can only be read in one sequence at a time (p. 2) All three of these standards apply to both the generative poem assignment, as well as traditional poetry or literature in general.

Generative poetry and electronic literature challenges traditional text, but that doesn’t mean that the newly invented literatures don’t qualify as literature. Aarseth writes that “text is something more than just marks upon a surface,” (p. 12), meaning that text is something that creates meaning and allows for the flow and exchange of ideas. In The Semantic Web Revisited, Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall, and Tim Berners-Lee (2006) claim that the Web consists of “documents for humans to read to one that included data and information for computers to manipulate,” (p. 96).  Even if computers are manipulating the text, much like in the generative poem, meaning is still being made by the reader, or even, humans. And then, the same argument occurs: there is a difference between paper and computer texts. But what is the difference? Aarseth argues that “the real difference between paper texts and computer texts is not very clear,” (p. 10) and it is true; other than the medium, what is the difference?  There are obvious subtle differences, like computers run on electric and the words are coded to appear on a screen, but the argument is that this code is literature too. How? Code uses a certain language and follows a pattern in order to create something meaningful to the reader. Codes can change the color of a text or background, among millions of other things. In comparison, the human hand and mind can write poetry with a certain rhythm that displays different emotions. The medium is still literature.

Since we can consider generative poetry as a type of literature with the evidence presented, we must consider what this means for the composition and structure. Aarseth writes that cyber text “centers attention on the consumer, or the user, of the text,” (p. 1), which changes the way that we compose. Instead of composing a poem for a traditional reader, we must begin to consider other options. For example, readers can be users or even co-authors. We must write in such a way that can account for that; the text must be more interactive to allow for the co-authorship. However, this poses a bit of a threat for the “reader”. Aarseth argues that the cyber text reader “is not safe” which means we can argue that “they are not a reader,” (p. 3). Most books are predictable and allow for full control, but with these newly developed ways of writing, more risks are available for the reader. The reader can fail at understanding how to navigate through the text which leads to a lack of understanding.

Understanding then, is linked to interpretation. But not interpretation as we know it. In “What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code,” a blogger writes that interpretation is no longer what it used to be; it’s not that “search for what the author secretly meant,” but rather it is the exploration of “semiotic objects in order to explore culture and systems of meaning.” This definition changes how we view literature; it’s not about that problem or climax, it’s about the meaning behind the text, and the interaction the text has with the medium to create that meaning. Just as words work together on a page to create a narrative, or within a Haiku to show imagery and emotion, words work behind the screens of a screen with code and the computer to create meaning.

Resources:

Aarseth, E. (1997). Introduction: Ergodic literature. In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic            Literature. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved from            http://cv.uoc.edu/~04_999_01_u07/aarseth1.html.

Berners-Lee, T., Hall, W., Shadbolt, N., (2006). The semantic web revisited.

What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code? (n.d.) Critical Cod Studies.

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, elit, ergodic literature, evidence, generative poem, images, information architecture, mapping, semantic web, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#iamondays How to Write E-Lit

On Twitter, Devon posted this:

blogpost4a

Which is a link that leads us to this:blogpost4

The “Fun da mentals” of e-lit. A very old image to teach us how to do something new. When I first saw this picture, I was immediately reminded of Robinson and his book The Story of Writing, and for some reason, the fossils reminded me of the section about “rebuses”. And with good reason, I think. These fossils are rebuses, and they relate to e-lit because most often, e-lit uses pictorial images. It’s crazy to think that we are still using techniques from the middle ages. But then again, everything we know has developed from something in the past. For example, the computer, and it’s many components (such as the internet, hypertext, and cyber text).

Hypertext is e-lit. But first, let’s look at the actual structure of this page that Devon posted. In my own opinion, it’s quite simplistic and bare. In fact, it even seems to resemble a piece of paper, which still shows that we’re relating how we write today to how we once used to write. However, the website seems to do a nice job of incorporating grids, as we learned about from Lupton. If we just browse at the first page, there is a cornucopia of blue. Blue, of course, is hypertext.  As Nelson wrote, hypertext means “forms of writing which branch or perform on request,”; in other words, any of the blue links that we see daily.

But how do these links happen? How can you possible think of making all of the connections? There are ways, tutorials, and even webpages that will do it for you, so it’s really not a question of how. It’s actually, more of a why. But the why is in the purpose of this blog post: electronic literature.

Now then, first we must learn to understand electronic literature. It’s unlike traditional literature, it’s not bound by specific outcomes and there’s no specific beginning or ending. So how can we learn about it with the idea of traditional reading and writing lodged in our noggins? With practice and coherence, it can be done.

Fun da mentals actually offers some interactive ways to learn and become familiar with electronic literature, which is something that Nelson writes is a good thing. There is a “hornbook” which helps students begin to understand how to read electronic literature. The hornbook teaches about nodes and paths, but also provides exercises that allow the students to get involved. By clicking on the “reader” section we can learn how electronic literature let’s us explore it. This section is headlined by “This sentence is false” and then teaches how different nodes (clickable parts of a sentence) can develop different stories or ideas, much like in The Jews Daughter.

The most interesting part of Fun da Mentals is the “Coloring book” link. As the only way to learn how to color is by practicing, at some point you learn that you’re doing it right when you color inside the lines. Students learn about creating electronic literature by doing similar exercises to that of a coloring book. It involves navigation by clicking.

Speaking of navigation by clicking, the Fun da Mentals is almost an example of  e-literature. Yes, it’s obvious that the page is full of hypertext, but what makes e-lit is that the reader is in control. He or she can click around and expand the story on their own. For instance, once I begin reading the description of “the coloring book” I see that the word “anatomy” is a link, in which I click it. It takes me to the anatomy interactive portal, which is not directly related to what I was just focusing on. In this same description, there is a clickable word that says “electronic tool”. I am compelled to find out what an electronic tool is, so I click on it. I read about electronic tools. However, here is where there’s an issue: Each page that I’ve clicked on, they’ve offered other links, but none of them seem to take me back to the original story line. Therefore, we could argue that this is not electronic literature.

Electronic literature can be complex, especially when we’ve grown up and only been exposed to one type of literature (traditional). It takes time and practice to learn a new trade. As Fun da Mentals is attempted to do, it’s important to constantly practice and enrich yourself into what you’re trying to learn in order to better adapt.

Categories: #IAMondays, Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, evidence, images, information architecture, mapping, pictorial images, semantic web, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s time to transform with creative thinking

You’re currently reading words that are floating around on cyberspace. You’re not viewed as a reader, but as Aerseth writes, you are on your own adventure, taking risks. So, while we’re taking risks and exploring, Nelson mentions that most of us don’t actually understand the computer.  At first I thought that this meant we don’t understand how computers work, or even, how to operate computers and I expected to read something like a computer manual. Don’t get me wrong, Computer Lib / Dream Machine is certainly a manual of some type, but not the traditional manual.

Everything we’ve been reading and learning about recently has been quite the opposite of the traditional things we’re used to. I even though about writing this blog post in a different way, against the grain, but I had no idea where to even start; we must take baby steps. As Nelson argues, we learn most things by beginning with “vague impressions” (p. 303).  The first step in understanding the computer is to learn that it is a media that provokes emotions and helps us write, think, and show (Nelson, p. 306).

Now, the key word is help. It’s not the writer itself, nor it solely just the delivery method. For example, in Taroka Gorge (and the others too), a real human being came up with the basic structure: the main idea and the words. The computer put together the form and structure: how the words appeared to the audience. In the poems we read, there’s a feedback loop that keeps using the same words and creating different outcomes. I’m going to attempt to do so myself, but I have a hunch it’s much easier when a computer does it.

Roscoe retaliates to grab my banana whole heartedly.

My banana retaliates.

Roscoe grabs.

My whole banana.

My heartedly banana grabs Roscoe.

I think you get the point. Something that took me a few minutes to do would take a computer seconds to do. So in essence, it can be argued that computers essentially think for us, but not without the correct input.

But how do we learn what the correct input is? Well, as Nelson shows from the article,  “No more teachers’ dirty looks”, it’s beginning next to impossible to teach. Schools are focusing so much on standardized this and standardized that, that creativity is thrown out the window. Surely this is displayed in any type of creative situation, but especially in computers. How can the youth of the future learn how to be creative when computer classes are tailored to very specific tasks and are very standardized?  Furthermore, it can be said that the education system is behind in change. Literature teachers are teaching poems from a long history ago, yet they seem to glide over the current period of poems: e-lit at its finest.

Last week, we struggled, or at least I struggled, to understand the electronic literature we were required to read. We learned that it was difficult for us to tailor our traditional style of reading because it was all that we had known. If schools spend time teaching electronic literature, alongside traditional literature, students would become accustomed and be better able to code switch from one to the other.  As Nelson argues, “students should develop through practice, abilities to think,  argue, and disagree intelligently (p. 310).  But instead of this, students spend countless hours learning about topics that bore them to tears. One that I can recall, from both high school and community college, is the basic computer class that teaches you how to use Microsoft programs. Why is that a real class? And even more, it strictly taught and tailored the projects we would do. The whole class had to create an excel spread sheet from the same baseball statistics. How boring and inconclusive. And even more, these classes started the rave for PowerPoint, and we all know how Tufte feels about PowerPoint (which I think goes for all of us as well). I think it’s time the school systems caught up to the technology that is vastly developing.

The question about all of this, which Nelson asked as well ,is how will we use these creations? (p. 117). This is something that could truly be in our hands, yet it might also slip away if not treated carefully. School systems, and society, need to recognize these new ways of writing and creative thinking as a real possibility, and they need to begin to educate on them.  The time for transformation is now.

Categories: class activities, images, information architecture, mapping, semantic web, technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

An Infographic on the Importantance of Breakfast!

infographicfinalforreal

 

Reflection 1

I originally started out wanting to create an infographic on waffles, but I ran into a dilemma: what is there really to say about waffles? This is when I realized that there is so much to be said about breakfast. In this infographic, I wanted to build awareness that breakfast is essential for a healthy life and I also wanted to try and encourage those who don’t eat breakfast, to eat breakfast.  Furthermore, towards the end, I wanted to stress that it’s not just eating breakfast that is important, but what you eat for breakfast.

I start my infographic out with a timeline, which I feel slowly invites people in, especially when they see the “Eggo shortage” point.  After I get my audience’s attention, I share the statistics of the percentage of people who skip breakfast by age groups. These statistics are then followed by what percentages of those skippers are obese. I believe that these statistics alone will shock and draw attention to the changes that need to be made.  Towards the end, I have “building blocks” about nutrition, followed by lists of ways to create, and help any individual stick to a healthy breakfast.  I think these all flow together to help support my goals in educating the world about a healthy breakfast.

I think if I had to write a paper on this topic instead, it wouldn’t be as inviting or as easy to understand. I wanted to show statistics, but not in a way that was boring or repetitive.  However, this assignment did pose some challenges and issues. First, Piktochart separated everything into blocks which allowed for a lot of issues to occur when attempting to move things around. Second, it offered a limited amount of icons that didn’t really apply to my topic. For instance, after we spent a whole class deciding that a coffee cup would suffice for my chart, I had come home and I did not have the coffee cup available any more on my screen (for reasons unknown).  In my other chart, I had different color circles represent the amount of favorite breakfast foods, yet Piktochart made the key displayed as boxes. While I was able to cover these boxes with my own circles, this was a lot of unnecessary work that could’ve been avoided if Piktochart created a better presentation.

In the end, I think this might’ve been easier if I was a designer with some experience on how to put things together in a way that creates a good flow. However, as an experienced writer, I think I was able to create a good piece of writing. A piece of writing is about good content and the presentation of it, not just one or the other.

Reflection 2

Before I even started putting things on my infographic, I realized that Piktochart was already separated into blocks, which made it easy for me to think about it in terms of grids. As Lupton writes, grids “break space or time into regular units,” (p. 151).   On each block, I tried to figure out how I could create grids. For example, the title and explanation (at the top of my infographic) is broken into two grids, while the one that follows (the timeline) is displayed in one grid. I tried to alternate grids to create a better flow, but it also depended on the type of information I planned on displaying.

The information I used in my infographic varies on how it needed to be displayed. The timeline is a great example; it needed to be displayed in a whole block to show the distance of time from year to year. Furthermore, it was shown across the page, because according to Tufte “reading across describes sequence of movements,” showing the movement of time from left to right (p. 33).  I originally had my timeline going downwards, showing movement from an older year to a newer year, but I decided to change it as it didn’t match our metaphor of time. As humans, we often view time as across the horizon, moving towards one year and away from the other.

In the next grid, I display two statistics, which were crafted around both Tufte and Lupton’s theories on information design. Lupton writes that “design and text gently collaborate to enhance understanding,” (p. 7).  I put the percentage in a circle and had it displayed larger than the text it collaborated with in hopes that it would draw more attention to itself, and I believe this technique worked. The number and the text are not directly together; instead the text lies parallel to the number, but in a way that is not directly connected. As Tufte argued, most graphics that have nouns are connected by arrows or links, because “the evidence in variation in connections is stronger than evidence for sameness,” (p. 79). From this, I was able to pick out an arrow/link to connect the two together that provided a strong connection without distracting my audience. When I first came to these two statistics, I wasn’t sure how to display them. Originally, I had just thought that by writing it out as “22% are obese”, it would come off as boring and ineffective. I had remembered how I once read statistics in a magazine that was similar to the way I presented it, and then I recalled the theories presented by Lupton and Tufte, which were right on point. Tufte claims that there should be “no distinction among words and images” (p. 49), and I think by using arrows and links, there is no distinction between the two, at least in this case.

Next to this grid, I show more statistics; the percentage of people who skip breakfast, varying from male and female and from age group. This was originally displayed in a bar graph, which was what Tufte defined as chart junk. It was chart junk because it took information and made it into a bunch of junk that really had no effect on my audience. As Tufte argued, mapped pictures should “combine representational images with scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images,” (p. 13).  In this grid, I attempted to do just that. I used the icon of a plate and utensils to display a certain percentage of people. This is what Tufte refers to as a sparkline, or a “data intense, design simple, and word sized graphic,” (p. 47). By displaying this information in this way, instead of the original bar graph way, it provides a greater level of understanding.

Understanding is the main goal of any piece of writing, so it’s important to involve metaphors in the way information is presented, as that’s how humans relate to things. In the next section, I used a squiggly boarder to make the grid appear as a chalkboard. Inside of the “chalkboard” I put blocks, and labeled them as “the building blocks of breakfast”.  I thought that this was a dead giveaway to the metaphor of building up your life to a great one. Furthermore, I really wanted to incorporate movement arrows in among these blocks, to show the relationships of the blocks. Tufte argues that “important comparisons among images should be pointed out by arrows, labels, and other methods of directing attention,” (p. 45). I added the circular arrows and other arrows to draw attention to the importance of each, but also to show the relationship among them.

In regards to relationships among the design, the text relationship to the design further enhances understanding. Although I was limited to the types of fonts available, I made sure each font correlated to the words. As Lupton writes, the goal is “to find an appropriate match between style of letters and the specific social situation and body of content that define the project at hand,” (p. 32). In other words, I viewed each portion of text as a human. Lupton claims that “words originated as gestures of the body” (p. 13) and that they give “language a physical body” (p. 13). I selected certain fonts depending on how they appeared, much like how we judge humans on how they appear. Furthermore, Lupton argues that the contrast between big and small type “creates drama and surprise,” (p. 45), so I attempted to use this technique to my advantage at certain points in my infographic. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that without Lupton and Tufte’s information design techniques, I may not have created a beautiful infographic that enhanced understanding on healthy breakfasts.

Resources:

Lupton, E. (2010). Type (2nd Expanded ed.). New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.

Tufte, E. (2006). Beautiful evidence (3rd ed.). Cheshire, CT: Author.

Categories: #IAMondays, class activities, diagrams, evidence, images, infographic, information architecture, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tweetping and the Semantic Web

Recently, recurring birthday girl Devon tweeted about  Tweetping, a website tracking world-wide tweet counts. Tweetping may be the first step to realizing a Semantic Web. The term, developed in the 1960s, describes a web network that enables machine-read metadata to recognize relationships between webpages and web searches and attempts to establish these links in order for users more accurately and conveniently access the web.

I’ve had tweetping open for maybe ten minutes now and I’ve watched the number of tweets rise exponentially. What the site does-recording tweets by characters used, by hashtag (by another word, folksonomies-organically developed content retrieval tags instigated by small groups or individuals , words, mentions, place of origin, is the beginning of the Semantic Web. These ontologies -a set of data within a domain (of discourse)-touch at the possibilities of a Semantic Web.

The computer/algorithm is tracking data, but to be part of the Semantic Web, data needs to be relatable. Tweetping may track hashtags and @mentions, but offers no way of viewing the amount of times any given hashtag was used, or who/where/when the hashtag was used. In Semantic Web terms, this is provenance. Provenance is an important aspect of the Semantic Web because it can show what information is available to different areas of the globe, the density of information/technology availability (Africa has noticeably fewer tweets than other inhabited areas), and how inhabitants in the area feel about the information.  Archiving is an important function in the Semantic Web, as it is through archiving that metadata relationships can be recognized.

Moving towards a Semantic Web changes conceptions of websites and what counts as data. Twitter is an ideal example, as the social media platform is often derided for user’s tweets being thin-largely irrelevant posts (i.e. “oh snap”). But authors Tim Berners-Lee, Nigel Shadbolt and Wendy hall would argue that twitter is a a great example for Semantic Web development-given the websites tendency towards shared conceptionualization and peer-to-peer protocols. Twitter has changed how information is recorded, communicated, and archived. Twitter users have the ability to list information via topic, or group information in any way they want to. These lists can also be shared, altered, etc.

While tweetping is an imperfect example of the Semantic Web, it is a step in the right direction. However, it can easily be adapted. It would not take much to expand Tweetping to track tweet posts by topic, area, etc. As stands, it is an interesting look at how machine-and not humans-track data. It also stands as an interesting contribution to web science, a science that seeks to develop an understanding of how information systems (both human and machine) operate on a global scale.

Tweetping offers an interesting look a global data trends-though again, only through seeing repeated hashtags in this version. As users of the Semantic Web, we must be aware that we are not just tweeting, not just blogging, not just idly surfing the web. We are contributing to the global information database.

Categories: #IAMondays, information architecture, mapping, semantic web, twitter | Tags: | 2 Comments

breakfast; the most important meal of the day

piktochart

Categories: #IAMondays, diagrams, images, infographic, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Asking Questions Without Expecting Answers

This past week, we read and discussed former Formula One racer Franco Moretti’s book, Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. While his layout might not be the most beautiful-several expressed a Tuftean dislike for placement of visuals and scale-Moretti’s key idea is revolutionary and exciting.

His concept of distant reading (focusing not on individual words and individual texts, but on genre, literary trends) is one that helps us as consumers and presenters of information. By using his process of deliberate reduction and abstraction, we can parse away unnecessary details that might otherwise draw our attention away. A perfect example of this is Charles Minard’s map of the retreat from Russia.

Tan line thinning

Notice that superfluous details-geographic map, description of army components, even Napoleon’s name-are left out of the graph. These are all things that distract us from what we are trying to understand. To borrow Tufte’s word, chartjunk. As Moretti puts it, distance is not an obstacle, but a specific form of knowledge.

Graphs are important, to Moretti they provide “quantitative research which provides a type of data which is ideally independent of interpretations.”

We made our own graph. For zombie movies. Because genres.  (The rise/fall of genre and literary trends is a large topic of Moretti’s book.)

The construction of the graph brought up an interesting question. As consumers of evidence, are we too schooled to ask Tufte’s question of “compared to what?” and expect visuals to provide perfect/complete context and understanding of it’s topic?  As a class, we were very-almost over-eager to explain why the sudden rise for zombie flicks. Each rise, surely, is instigated by a worldwide disease outbreak. No, the spikes reflect a war beginning or ending.

It could be both. It may be neither. To be honest, we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. We got caught up in the why-did-this-happen, at the cost of saying, ok, this happened. Moretti says that we put many people off teaching because we have the answer to everything.

Are we as consumers and producers of information too eager to apply readings and rationales to graphics? Are we, as Moretti implies, unwilling to accept that we might not have the answers?

Such questions clearly shade how we think of ourselves as presenters. Instead of presenting to prove a point, maybe we should provide, and request others to provide, raw data.

Going back to our zombie chart, we were very excited to be able to show that other things were happening concurrent to the rising spike in zombie movies. But we need to temper this excitement of proving with the threat of false causailty. In class, we could not prove that zombie movies shot up do to global illness or war. It just looked coincidental and we made the assumption that the twain were linked. THIS IS BAD! Both may prove to have some influence on the success of the zombie genre, but without hard proof, it does us no credit to make any suppositions.

This needs to inform our evidence presentations. We must be wary to present information in a way that makes inaccurate connections. We, as presenters, must swallow any pride and admit when we do not know, and simply present what we have as raw data.

Moretti is more than happy to conclude passages in his book by admitting he has no answers, that there might not be any answers.  This is an attitude we should adopt. It may infuriating to some, but sometimes the smartest thing we can say is, “I don’t know.”

 

Categories: diagrams, evidence, franco moretti, mapping, tufte | 4 Comments

Embodied Connections: Meaning-Making in a Multimodal Discourse

This past week in our graduate course on Information Architecture with Professor Bill Wolff, we’ve explored techniques and design philosophies centered on information display. Our discussion was informed by selected readings from Edward Tufte’s  Beautiful Evidence, as well as interactive and PDF versions of  Fighting to Live as the Towers Died, by the New York Times. A specific area of focus was the concept of  ‘mapping,’ within the context of  multimodal composition. (As a preface, it is important to make the distinction that, for purposes of discussion, our definition of mapping is not limited to ‘maps’ in the conventional sense of cartographic renderings–although, it could certainly include the use of them.)

According to Tufte, mapped pictures are representational images that combine scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images (13).

Multimodal-mapping presents the audience with several different kinds of information, via a single, visual plane–through a process of layering. Each ‘layer’ serves to signify a different kind of knowledge. For writers, mapping affords a visual dissemination of  interconnected webs of knowledge and causal relationships. In terms of information architecture and as a form of composition, multimodal-mapping frames and contextualizes specific intersections within a greater body of knowledge.

If we reflect on the discipline of communication, as writers, at the heart of our craft is effective communication with our audience. What this means in terms of execution–is that in our ‘writing,’ the intended message should come across in a way that is consistent with precisely what we mean to say. In other words, it is paramount that our composition–and therefore our message–not transmit in a convoluted or disjointed way.

So, you may ask, how does multimodality come into play, and why is ‘mapping’–or incorporating other elements besides plain text–important?

As our author asserts, at times, it is necessary to include multiple sources and levels of data (78) in order to illustrate connections and relationships, as well as make different kinds of comparisons; the use of additional kinds of information assist to better explain what we mean to say. For example, the strategic arrangement of annotative and  typographic elements–lines and arrows–as well as colors, images, and text, all function together to transmit a message that is dynamic, visually engaging and robust. Important to note, is that these elements also function to provide context and directional navigation to the page–therefore, enabling the reader to clearly ‘decode,’ or ‘read’ the message.

Another facet of multimodal-mapping is that it offers the capability to take extremely complex, high-density information–such as that of cartography, brain research, molecular biology, physics and other high-resolution fields–and re-present it in a way that the linear data becomes embodied into a single, compact, visual representation. Tufte refers to this type of visual information as sparklines or data-words (58). This definition lends itself to that of semiotic metaphor. Another way to imagine sparklines or data-words, is to think of a ‘constellation of information’–or individual, interconnected pieces of knowledge that come together, making up a whole. An example of  a sparkline is the double helix of DNA encoding (13) or Tufte’s representation of all 65 of Galileo’s published observations of Jupiter and its satellites. (Pertaining to Tufte’s re-design of Galileo’s work, we note that when the original, ‘intervening’ text was omitted, a new architecture of information presented itself, resulting in the visual evidence becoming adjacent, sequential, linked, moving (108)–a continuity became present that was not there before.)

To further extrapolate on this concept, imagine an illustration of an adult, human skeleton. Now, in order for the message to be clearly understood, specificity is essential–what is needed is clear direction, scope, and scale. With a nod to the author, presenting ‘everything’ results in contextualizing nothing (31)–it conveys a message that is abstruse. So, we don’t want to focus on the ‘whole skeleton’ per say–instead, what we want to focus on is one area. Say, it’s the left leg–and even more specifically, the tibia. According to Tufte’s definition of beautiful evidence, every image presented must reside within the universal measurement grid (45). So, connecting back to the example I discussed above, what we are concerned with, is the portrayal of relationships within a given body of knowledge–showing things in context with one another provides for a local and precise way of understanding.

Tufte also discusses explanatory mappings and the practice of exploratory image analysis. Explanatory mappings appear in scientific research, newspapers, textbooks, technical manuals, legal proceedings, engineering reports and medical research (45). However, they are not constrained exclusively to these fields of discipline; they also extent into the arts and humanities and many times are interdisciplinary, because they represent complex information.

Below is image is from a journal article in Current Opinion in Neurobiology; an example of an explanatory mapping.

Networks for segregation in the human brain.

Below, this image  is a representative time-space map of the USA belonging to an article titled, The shrivelled USA: representing time–space in the context of metropolitanization and the development of high-speed transport from The Journal of Transport Geography.

During a discussion centered on one of the interactive mappings in Fighting to Live, one of my classmates commented, I don’t know when I’m supposed to stop and when I’m supposed to look at the images.

Regarding the page’s architecture of information, my classmate’s comment was reflective of bad design in terms of the page’s directional signifiers. In sum, just as a freeway has road signs and indicators of when to stop and when to go, when to turn here and exit there, multimodal mappings are beautiful evidence of what they represent only when elements therein properly signify or ‘point to’ what they were intended to, and result in a clear transmission of the message.

Categories: evidence, mapping, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

#Iamondays The Lack of Mapped Images?

Christen tweeted about Interaction Design Foundation, which is a webite that shows a lot of free educational materials involve Interaction Design. I clicked this link, after I prepared to be wowed. However, I was rather disappointed. The website seemed to lack the interactive design as well as any existence of mapped images. While the website is easy to navigate, it’s a bit plain and dull. This seems kind of ironic as it’s promoting interactive design. The colors are black, white, and gray. The only color that seems to stand out is the blue buttons at the top right of the screen that highlight the users to join them, log in, or publish something with them. I supposed these colors are used to emphasize the most important elements of the website. This could further indicate that you must join in order to participate in this website. The headlines and subtitles are typically bold. There’s not a lot of confusion happening on this website. There is a toolbar across the top, which displays exactly what the bleak images and subtitles display on the homepage (the main information of the website). Furthermore, if you scroll down on the homepage, each section is displayed again, with an image and a summary of what you might find in each section. I find that this design seems like it may be too much. I’m not sure I’d agree that it needs to display the main ideas three different times on the same area, what do you think?

I decided to click on the section labeled “Free Wiki Bibliography”. Again, this section of the website was well organized and easy to navigate, but it was full of text only. I thought that each section could have been created into a mapped image. For instance, each conference on the Wiki Bibliography could’ve had timelines that were interactive. Instead, the user must select a specific date, click on it, and further read through the information available. As Edward Tufte argues in Beautiful Evidence, data is more credible when contextualized (p. 22). If each event was contextualized in some way, it would become much more credible and easily associated with.

The website requires a lot of clicking around and exploring. I decided to check out the “Free Encyclopedia” section. By clicking on this link from the home page, I’m then directed to a page of 35 titles of self-help articles involved in some type of interactive design or service. Other than the titles, I had almost no knowledge of what was behind the articles. I wanted to click on something that might offer more user interaction, so I decided to look at “Visual Representation”. Each article is available in a tablet or PDF version, and offers links to a forum or a question form for the author. I thought these were neat buttons introduced, but they seemed a bit oddly placed at the top of the article.  This specific article on “Visual Representation” involved a lot of different approaches. It not only offered text, but also video, graphs, and data as well. As Tufte states, users must understand “what the words mean in relation to the image, and what the images mean in relation to the words,” (p. 88).  For instance, in this specific section of the website, you might not understand the importance of “The Grid System” if you failed to read the article or watch the videos on Visual Representation.

There’s also a “free image” library, where one can use as long as they adhere to the “copyright terms of each individual image”. I find this attribute pretty awesome, as most pictures involve Creative Commons, which is something the world should be pushing for. When I clicked on “Join us” in the top right corner of any section, I was surprised by what came on the screen. A nice interactive design showed up, that allowed me to become a member. I could write my name in an actual certificate. There are nine different certificate templates I can chose from and place on any number of websites if I wanted to. I could find my network on an actual map. I could list my skills based on types of technology. I found this small section of the website to be the most inviting and enriching. Each image tied in with the specific section it was explaining.

Another tiny little tool I found to enhance the website: you can click that little tree in the top left corner any time to return to the home page. The tree represented a home. To me, this is a metaphor in itself. Trees grow tall, humans grow tall. I’m a big fan of this tree, especially as I assume it’s the logo image of the company. The tree appears as a big, white oak tree. Instead of buds on the ends however, are pieces of paper. I think this logo could be incorporated much more into the design, as it’s a metaphor that speaks for the company itself.

Categories: #IAMondays, Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, images, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mapped Images Provide Understanding

As Edward Tufte argues in Beautiful Evidence, mapped pictures combine “representational images with scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images,” (p.13). Mapped pictures are very complex as they have multiple incorporations. It’s for this reason that mapped pictures are much better than just plain pictorial images. For instance, in “Fighting to Live as the Towers Died,” there are both mapped pictures, as well as simple pictorial pictures. On the very first page, there is a picture of the tower, with no added words, numbers, overlays, scales, or diagrams. While this picture does create a nice effect, adding aesthetic emotion, it doesn’t really advance any further than that. However, if you move to page two, there’s a nice outline of the North Tower that provides scales and words (labels) to help the reader associate with the text in the article. Instead of the article just talking about the different departments of the North Tower, there’s a diagram that further enforces the reality of what the article is saying. Furthermore, Tufte argues that an architectural drawing style that has a measurement scale, plain views, and labels shows that the object was “examined carefully” thus adding credibility to the image (p. 22-23). While the mapped images in the New York Times may not need credibility (as it’s the New York Times), the images do meet all of Lufte’s requirements for credibility.

Mapped images help the audience make a further connection with whatever lesson is at hand. As Tufte acclaims, a pile of “loosely related images” add up to a “coherent multiple viewpoint,” (p. 35). This claim is proven true in “Fighting to Live as the Towers Die,”.  There is a timeline of September 11th, with arrows, pictures, words, and labels. Throughout the article there are pictures that display the faces of those that were lost (also with labels). The usage of many different mapped images adds up to show a coherent viewpoint which help aid in seeing and reading the article.

Tufte seems to think that labels should be used differently depending on the genre and context of an image. For instance, on page 42, Tufte claims that the diagram below the historical picture allows for a greater detail then placing the labels on the actual picture. I personally find this type of mapping confusing and I think it requires too much effort. I can barely figure out which shape represents each person, let alone realize that the dog is not labeled. Do you think it would’ve been better to label each person in the picture (using white labels perhaps)? I understand that this type of mapping allows for more details in the labels, but I question this too. For instance, on the next page, the dogs are labeled by name on the picture. Yes, this type of labeling is simplistic, but what if we wanted to put their breeders or some other information? I think we could also put that on the picture, underneath their names, without much hassle. Furthermore, Tufte acclaims that types of measurement should be placed directly on the photograph and that science should use this way of reporting standards (p.43). While I don’t disagree, I wonder if Tufte would agree to put measurements on the historical picture, if it were deemed necessary.

It’s interesting because, before I read Beautiful Evidence, I thought of mapped images just as the words state; an image of a map. During my reading, I thought that mapped images were strictly used in science and nature books, used to show the scales of animals and such. However, now I understand that it can and should be used virtually anywhere as it strengthens the writing it’s placed with.

All of this information helps us understand and evaluate the architecture of writing. Not only is the definition of writing becoming redefined, but the architecture of writing is also being redefined. A clear example of this is when I first started college. I took Composition 1 and 2, where I strived to write great essays and papers. The criterion for this was simple: write with a purpose, audience, and main idea in mind through clear and concise words. As I advanced my degree, it started to become much different. There were still papers and essays, but writing started to involve technology. I created a mashup video, which was basically similar to a persuasive essay. Yet I did this with only clips of videos. It’s still a form of writing, yet the architecture of it was very different from that of an essay. The involvement of mapped images in our writing will also become much more present as the idea of what writing is evolves.

Categories: class activities, diagrams, evidence, images, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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