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February 29 2012

Four short links: 29 February 2012

  1. StuxNet Deep Dive -- extremely technical talk, but this page has a redux. The presenter's thesis, well-argued, is that StuxNet was absolutely aimed specifically at the Natanz facility. (via Chris Douglas)
  2. Smithsonian Digitizing Items (CNet) -- two-person project, only able to do a few items a year, but still an excellent advance. See also Bronwyn Holloway-Smith's art project around artifact replicas.
  3. Collusion (Mozilla) -- have your browser tell you the third parties tracking your web browsing. (via Hacker News)
  4. Survivor (Github) -- HTML5 implementation of an Atari/C64 game. If you wanted to learn how to write HTML5 arcade games, you could do worse than study this project. (via Andy Baio)

December 13 2011

Four short links: 13 December 2011

  1. Newton's Notebooks Digitised -- wonderful for historians, professional and amateur. I love (a) his handwriting; (b) the pages full of long division that remind us what an amazing time-saver the calculator and then computer was; (c) use of "yn" for "then (the y is actually a thorn, pronounced "th", and it's from this that we get "ye", actually pronounced pronounced "the"). All that and chromatic separation of light, inverse square law, and alchemical mysteries.
  2. Creative Commons Kicks Off 4.0 Round -- public discussion process around issues that will lead to a new version of the CC licenses.
  3. Shred -- an HTTP client library for node.js. (via Javascript Weekly)
  4. Holding Back the Age of Data (Redmonk) -- Absent a market with well understood licensing and distribution mechanisms, each data negotiation - whether the subject is attribution, exclusivity, license, price or all of the above - is a one off. Very good essay into the evolution of a mature software industry into an immature data industry.

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July 04 2011

Four short links: 4 July 2011

  1. Let There Be Smite (Pippin Barr) -- simple diversion for the 4th of July. It won't be easy for God to save America. (via Pippin's blog)
  2. Basel Wear -- to answer the question I know was burning on your lips: "what *did* the Swiss wear in 1634?" Impressively detailed pictures from a 1634 book that is now online. One of the reasons I'm in favour of digitizing cultural collections is that we're more likely to encounter them on the net and so ask questions like "how did people dress in 1634?", "why did everyone carry keys?", and "what is a Sexton?"
  3. databranches: Using git as a Database -- it's important to approach your design for using git as a database from the perspective of automated merging. Get the merging right and the rest will follow. I've chosen to use the simplest possible merge, the union merge: When merging parent trees A and B, the result will have all files that are in either A or B, and files present in both will have their lines merged (and possibly reordered or uniqed).
  4. Joshfire -- open source (dual-licensed GPLv2 and commercial) multiplatform development framework built on HTML5.

May 17 2011

Four short links: 17 May 2011

  1. Sorting Out 9/11 (New Yorker) -- the thorniest problem for the 9/11 memorial was the ordering of the names. Computer science to the rescue!
  2. Tagger -- Python library for extracting tags (statistically significant words or phrases) from a piece of text.
  3. Free Science, One Paper at a Time (Wired) -- Jonathan Eisen's attempt to collect and distribute his father's scientific papers (which were written while a federal employee, so in the public domain), thwarted by old-fashioned scientific publishing. “But now,” says Jonathan Eisen, “there’s this thing called the Internet. It changes not just how things can be done but how they should be done.”
  4. Internet Archive Launches Physical Archive -- I'm keen to see how this develops, because physical storage has problems that digital does not. I'd love to see the donor agreement require the donor to give the archive full rights to digitize and distribute under open licenses. That'd put the Internet Archive a step in front of traditional archives, museums, libraries, and galleries, whose donor agreements typically let donors place arbitrary specifications on use and reuse ("must be inaccessible for 50 years", "no commercial use", "no use that compromises the work", etc.), all of which are barriers to wholesale digitization and reuse.

April 20 2011

Four short links: 20 April 2011

  1. PDP-11 Emulator in Javascript, Running V6 UNIX -- blast from the past, and quite a readable emulator (heads up: cd was chdir back then). See also the 1st edition UNIX source on github. (via Hacker News)
  2. 2010: The Year of Crowdsourcing Transcription -- hasn't finished yet, as NY Public Library shows. Cultural institutions are huge data sets that need human sensors to process, so we'll be seeing a lot more of this in years to come as we light up thousands of years of written culture. (via Liza Daley)
  3. Programming the Commodore 64 -- the loss of the total control that we had over our computers back when they were small enough that everything you needed to know would fit inside your head. It’s left me with a taste for grokking systems deeply and intimately, and that tendency is probably not a good fit for most modern programming, where you really don’t have time to go in an learn, say, Hibernate or Rails in detail: you just have to have the knack of skimming through a tutorial or two and picking up enough to get the current job done, more or less. I don’t mean to denigrate that: it’s an important and valuable skill. But it’s not one that moves my soul as Deep Knowing does. This is the kind of deep knowledge of TCP/IP and OS that devops is all about.
  4. Kids do Science -- scientists lets kids invent an experiment, write it up, and it's published in Biology Letters. Teaching the method of science, not the facts currently in vogue, will give us a generation capable of making data-based decisions.

April 14 2011


RT @BSBOEA - Fantastische Ausst im #Augsburg-er Maximilianmuseum: Bürgermacht & Bücherpracht  () // #Bayern

April 13 2011

Ignite Smithsonian examines the evolution of museums and culture

As we all struggle to make sense of a world rapidly changed by technological disruption, the institutions that preserve cultural memory are becoming even more important. Their nature, form and offerings are inevitably changing with the times.

The Smithsonian Institute, as one of the preeminent museum systems in the world, is profoundly engaged in capturing our culture's digital transition. Yesterday, that institution hosted the inaugural Smithsonian Ignite in the "attic of the country."

"I was really gratified to see colleagues from all over the museum world, government, and unrelated fields propose talks," said Michael Edson (@mpedson), director of web and new media strategy for the Smithsonian. "We don't normally get to do this kind of fluid event that flows across disciplines and organizational boundaries. It felt right. It's the role the Smithsonian should be playing: a convener."

There were no shortage of big ideas encapsulated in the Ignite Smithsonian talks, all of which will be available online individually over time. Below are just a few of the themes that resonated in the hours afterwards.

Museums are thinking about big data

The rise of data science has come alongside unprecedented interest in the economic impact of data on society. As with other sectors, museums are thinking about how to manage and use big data in the future.

Brett Bobley (@BrettBobley), the chief information officer for the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities and the director of the agency's Office of Digital Humanities, focused his Ignite talk on the challenges of big data. Bobley highlighted the perils and possibilities that all of that information presents to museums.

"How do we use big, big data for research?" asked Bobley. That's the question that the Digging into Data Challenge is meant to answer. The challenge, as Bobley explained, is to address the ways "big data" changes research in the humanities and social sciences.

Steve Midgley
Steve Midgley of the Department of Education talks about the Learning Registry. (Credit: Michael Edson)

Another Ignite Smithsonian talk by Steve Midgley (@SteveMidgley) looked at a similar theme, exploring how gaining more insight through data can improve education in a digital learning registry. Capturing and analyzing the data generated by people's interactions with media or objects can offer unusual insight into human behavior and learning patterns. "Tim O'Reilly calls this stuff 'data exhaust'," said Midgley, "and we all need to be paying much closer attention to it." Midgley, the deputy director of education technology at the U.S. Department of Education, spoke at length about the Learning Registry at last year's Gov 2.0 Summit.

Rethinking museum websites

Koven Smith
Koven Smith asks "What's the Point of a Museum Website?" (Credit: Uncommon Fritillary)

"We are making great Conestoga wagons in the age of automobiles," said Koven J. Smith (@5easypieces), director of technology at the Denver Art Museum. "In a world of Facebook and YouTube, why would anyone come to a museum website?" asked Smith.

Smith adapted a concept from software development and argued for more "agile content development," where the experience of audiences is not limited by static websites. He wasn't committed to any one vision for what the future of the museum website will be, but rather what they should do: focus on being better enablers, not producers. "What we actually need to do is enable access to content, whether that content is produced by us or others," Smith suggested. "Focus on creating what is unique to us."

Touchscreen virtual exhibits

With more than 100 million iPhones sold and at least 15 million iPads in the wild, digital exhibit designers have new canvases to create upon. As more Android devices and tablets are sold over the course of 2011, the number of touchscreens in the hands of museum-goers will expand even more.

Simon Sherrin (@thesherrin) technical manager for the Victorian Cultural Network in Australia, focused his Ignite talk on touchscreen museum software that's changing how virtual visitors can navigate exhibits. Sherrin shared the example of, where the touchscreen interface has already been put to good use. The Tap Tours software is open source and can be used by any institution willing to implement it.

The rise of citizen curation

The important role that professional curators, preservationists, archivists and other expert staff play at museums isn't going away, but it is shifting. Online, museum staff can now also play roles of conveners and community builders, working with citizens interested in helping to digitize and organize information.

"It is the responsibility of museum as stewards of memory to help citizens think critically," said Neal Stimler in his Ignite talk. Stimler's presentation described how the spread of connection technologies changes the dynamic between traditional institutions and the people who visit them, either online or in person.

Related to that point, research from the Pew Internet and Life Project highlights how important it is for museums to both acknowledge and respond to digital information trends

Fiona Rigby (@nzfi), content manager at DigitalNZ, looked at how the National Library of New Zealand is thinking like a platform provider as it works with citizens to digitize their cultural heritage. The Digital New Zealand online platform includes a digital forum and an open API. The latter has enabled developers to create applications and tools using open data, several of which were developed during New Zealand's "Mix and Match" mashup contest. The winning mashup, NZ Walks Information, mashes up the location data for walking trails all over New Zealand with Google Maps.

Augmented reality is a reality

Constant connectivity and mobile's next act are on the minds of museum curators, given the devices that now increasingly exist in the palms of citizens. A 3-D vision of ‪an "augmented city" ‬by ‪Keiichi Matsuda ‬provided ‬an ‪eye‬-‪catching‬ vision of a near future during one of the interludes at Ignite Smithsonian.

This video held additional resonance, ‪given the context of an‬ ‪Ignite ‬t‪alk on augmented reality‬ delivered ‪by ‬Margriet Schavemaker (@marschave), head of collections and research at the ‪‬Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. "Space hacking" can allow people to populate cities with an augmented reality of museum objects. These digital constructs can enable museums to hold dialogues with new audiences, far from the physical instantiations of the collections themselves.

Schavemaker's presentation was a reminder of how much of the future already exists in our present, offering several examples of how augmented reality is being used in museums today.

Creating space for creativity

Innovation often has its genesis in people having fun. The Smithsonian's CTO, Carmen Iannacone (@SI_CTO), gave his staff permission to "go out of your way to allow some experimentation into your life." He suggested that managers should allow for a 15% decrease in productivity to explore ways to increase productivity by 50%. As Alice Lipowicz reported for Federal Computer Week, the Smithsonian CTO shared his perspective about knowledge workers and some tips on learning and using new media tools during his Ignite talk.

Iannacone's perspective built upon the ideas Philip Auerswald (@auerswald) shared in his Ignite presentation. "If we don't have playgrounds, there isn't a protected area where creative ideas can happen," Auerswald said, emphasizing the importance of such spaces from infancy through adulthood. Auerswald is behind a proposal to reinvent the Smithsonian Arts & Industries building as a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation on the National Mall.

Ignite + Smithsonian

"People seemed to really understand and appreciate the Ignite-Smithsonian equation," said Edson. "Ignite stands for something in the tech and media industries, the Smithsonian stands for something in the broader culture, and putting them together resulted in something new and interesting. I'd like to do the event again and see what happens."

Much more detail about the Ignite Smithsonian speakers, their Ignite talks and related resources can be found at the Smithsonian's wiki.


January 01 2010

Creative impulses: A history of the world in 100 objects

Source: The Economist (12-31-09)

Man is one of a number of animals that make things, but man is the only one that depends for its very survival on the things he has made. That simple observation is the starting point for an ambitious history programme, "A History of the World in 100 Objects", which BBC Radio 4 will begin broadcasting on January 18th. A joint venture four years in the making between the British Museum (BM) and the BBC, the series features 100 15-minute radio broadcasts, a separate 13 episodes in which children visit the museum at night and try to unlock its mysteries, a BBC World Service package of tailored omnibus editions for broadcasting around the world and an interactive digital programme involving 350 museums in Britain which will be available free over the internet.

The presenter is Neil MacGregor, the BM's director, who has moved from the study of art to the contemplation of things. "Objects take you into the thought world of the past," he says. "When you think about the skills required to make something you begin to think about the brain that made it." From the first moment (the ghostly magnetic pulse from a star that exploded in the summer of 1054, as recorded at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics) this series is radio at its best: inventive, clever, and yet always light on its feet.

Mr MacGregor is less interested in advertising the marvels of the 250-year-old universal museum he heads than in considering who made the objects he discusses. That involves drawing together evidence of how connected seemingly disparate societies have always been and rebalancing the histories of the literate and the non-literate. "Victors write history; the defeated make things," he says. This is an especially important distinction when considering Africa. The great Encyclopedia Britannica" of 1911 assumed that Africa had no history because it had no written history. The statues of black pharaohs that Mr MacGregor discusses in an early programme, for example, are the best visual evidence that a Nubian tribe once seized control of ancient Egypt and that Africans ruled over the Nile for more than a century.

Of the 100 objects, only one has not been selected yet. Mr MacGregor is waiting until the last possible moment to pick out the best symbol of our own time. Suggestions, please, on a postcard to: British Museum, London WC1B 3DG.

Reposted fromsigalonhistory sigalonhistory

January 06 2009

Play fullscreen
Encounter on Radical Education: Cats in Slovenia!

November 09 2008

September 12 2007

TERRA 340: A Life with Skulls PART TWO

Ray Bandar is not your average museum curator. How could he be with nicknames like Dr. Bones and Reptile Ray? He spends his days dressed in tattered clothes, walking San Francisco's beaches in search of the ultimate specimens for his collection - and what is he collecting? Skulls! Not just any old skulls though - these skulls are for one of the most diverse and exotic museum collections in the world. Seals, sharks, lions, hyenas - Ray has collected them all! So put on your swim suit and grab a towel as we head to the beach with filmmaker Beth Cataldo for "A Life With Skulls".
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