Categotry Archives: Google

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing

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A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.

 

The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to goo.gl/WEplXS to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters (goo.gl/4RKgVR) in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

We’re Heading Towards A Jetsons World, And I’m Worried About It.

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image of the robot C-3PO from Star Wars

I have a package for you!

In the past week, there have been several technology announcements that you may or may not have heard of; with one exception, they don’t seem to have gotten the exposure that it seems to me that they should have.

On the December 1 broadcast of 60 Minutes on CBS, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos talked about a prototype delivery system where packages weighing five pounds or less could be delivered by an Amazon drone, right to a customer’s doorstop. According to Mr. Bezos, delivery could happen within 30 minutes of placing an order. On December 4, Google let the world know about a project where Googlians are playing with the concept of robots delivering packages using self-driving cars.

Neither of these things are possible today; there are huge practical and regulatory hurdles to overcome; for instance, I’m sure that the FAA would have a fit with drones flying all over Washington DC or Los Angeles, and I can’t even visualize the double takes people might have at having a driverless car with a robot in it pull up to their grandmother’s curb to drop off a fruitcake.

Human-robot interactions have been conceptualized and explored for over a century. Writers such as Isaac Asimov (I Robot,) Ray Bradbury (I Sing the Body Electric! The Pedestrian and others,) Television and film writers such as Rod Serling (Twilight Zone,) Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek Next Generation,) Michael Crichton (Westworld,) William Goldman (Stepford Wives,) even Hannah-Barbera with The Jetsons have postulated fictional human environments where we interact with robots in daily life, generally with unintended consequences. In most cases (even the Jetsons,) the result is dystopia. The phrase “unintended consequences” is, to me, inadequate for most of these examples.

After I saw the Google robot story, I did a search for  ‘Robots in Museum’ on Google. Thank goodness that most of what I found involved exhibits ABOUT robots and robotics, but I did run across a paper available at http://robot.cc/papers/thrun.icra_minerva.pdf describing the results of an experiment involving a robot guide at the Smithsonian. “Minerva” is actually a second-generation robot used for a limited trial as a guide in the Smithsonian’s National Museum for American History way back in 1998. The paper primarily describes the mechanics and theory that guided how Minerva was built to navigate and interact with people and its space, with nothing substantial about how the bot communicated or shared information with humans.

More importantly, how does this tie into interpretation and technology? Hopefully not very much at all, but one never knows. As I’ve pondered this idea, it occurs to me that we’re already interacting with artificial intelligence, and most of us hate it.

Have you ever spoken with ‘Julie’ at Amtrak? Try calling 1-800-AMTRAK and you have to speak with ‘Julie’ no matter what your issue is. ‘She’ will ask leading questions and then try to interpret your response using speech recognition algorithms. There’s really no way to directly call an actual human at Amtrak; ‘Julie’ is the gatekeeper. ‘She’ is particularly annoying to me when I’m trying to get train status info, because no matter how late a train may be, ‘she’ will cheerfully remind me that “late trains can and do make up time!” Such trains may exist, but none that I have ever ridden.

In addition to ‘Julie,’ there are many companies where your interaction is limited to a silicon chip somewhere, and it’s difficult or impossible to speak to a human. As a species, we hate them all, yet they continue to proliferate. Our other common option for these common business interactions is probably through an app on a phone or tablet device.

And this is where we’re getting into the interpretive realm. We have apps for travel, for banking, for dealing with our utility company. We also have apps that will guide us through Museums, along historic byways, and help us understand history and nature. The success of both business and interpretive apps ultimately depends on public acceptance, which is partly based on what I call “user ergonomics,” i.e. how easy and intuitive and logical these are to use, as well as the usefulness of the content. A couple of years ago, I worked on evaluating some tour guide apps for a professional group. Some of them were great, and I was really pleased to learn about them, but a couple of them were about as useful to me as the tourism books I find in hotels; full of ads for crap I would never be interested in and high cost attractions that I couldn’t care less about. Once again, my maxim that content is far more important than technique (in this case, technology) was proven true.

The third tech news announcement in the past few days that interpreters really should be more aware of involves iBeacon from Apple. A “beacon” is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmitter that can send information to your phone and act as a sort of micro-GPS signal to pinpoint your location relative to itself, feeding you sales (or other) information. Though it’s being promoted primarily for commerce, what about using this to trigger interpretive content? This might sound similar to NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that’s used in some Android devices, but it has some important differences.

NFC technology uses a chip in an object that is sensed by your device when you’re close to it, with a maximum range of about eight inches. By contrast, BLE transmitters transmit data up to about 150 feet. In use NFC technology involves passing your device near a sign or object containing the chip to receive the information. With BLE technology, you could be “greeted” by your device and it could direct you to the object or feature in question when you’re within about to 150 feet of it. In an airport or a baseball stadium or other large indoor space, beacons could help you navigate an unfamiliar setting much more accurately than a standard GPS, because it can pinpoint the location of your device (and presumably you) in relation to itself. The downside to all this is that, without a good and complete understanding of what information is being exchanged between the BLE server and your device, you might not have any idea of what information you’re providing to the provider, and who knows where the information goes from there? By the way, these beacons were apparently activated in all Apple stores last week, but they’ve already been in use in other locations, such as Citi Field, home of the NY Mets.

So what does this all mean? I’m generally a fan of Google culture. I’ve been able to work with some Googlians regarding mapping and geospatial issues. Google Earth is a wonderful research tool for history, nature, geography and culture. Google maps are my go-to navigation technology. Yahoo and Bing are poor relations in the search engine realm. The Chrome browser is so much slicker to use than Firefox or Safari. I have a more nuanced relationship with Amazon. My personal ethos is to purchase things locally from physical vendors, even at a slightly higher price, because it helps make a healthy economy, but Amazon is my go-to for basically anything that I cannot find locally. That’s becoming more and more common for me these days. I also appreciate and value technological innovation.

But the drone and robot ideas make me more than a little nervous. I can’t help but compare Amazon drones with military drones. I can’t help but wonder about how they could be hacked, or shot down by unhappy people being buzzed. I can’t help but be creeped out by the thought of having C-3PO ring my doorbell and ask me to sign for a package (worse yet, do a fingerprint or retinal scan!)

Honestly, I think that these are colossally stupid ideas. I’m a bit more sanguine with the thought though, that these are merely PR puff pieces. It’s not lost on me that the 60 Minutes story aired on the night before cyber Monday, and that the Google story was just a few days later. These two notoriously closed-mouth companies never, ever really talk about upcoming innovation that they’re working on.

Apple’s iBeacon idea is something I think I need to digest some more. I always worry about my privacy online, and I do check privacy policies for social media sites I use. I’d like to know more about what a beacon gleans from my device. On the other hand, as a content provider, I really like the idea of having my visitors have the opportunity to get enhanced interpretive multi-media information simply by coming into proximity to the feature I want to interpret. Done properly, again concentrating on content and a simple interface, the possibilities really intrigue me.

But what will ideas like these lead to for interpreters? Have we lost ground professionally by adding more apps and technology to the list of interpretive tools? Will we, or could we eventually be replaced with robotic interpreters? Content and talent is always more important than tools. Regardless of whether we are interacting with a visitor one-on-one or whether they are viewing an exhibit on-line or listening to a phone tour, themes and well thought out material will always enlighten, inform and enthrall in a much better way than any flash or fancy technology can do on its own.

Still, this all just makes me a bit nervous.

http://goo.gl/YYHC5c

Getting Lost in the Wilderness

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I’ve always enjoyed telling people where to go.  I spent five years in one of the most rugged national parks in New Zealand’s South Island – Arthur’s Pass – employed to answer questions like “where’s the toilet?, where can I get something to eat? And where shall I go for a tramp? (US readers, that’s a hike to you and not a reference to the wildlife….)

Nicknamed by the locals “Miss Information” I would spend my days poring over topo-maps; running my fingers up and down steep valleys and passes, explaining the best ways through the wilderness.  Of course to be credible, I had to have walked the tracks and routes myself. (Best job ever!) But no matter how much advice I gave, it was still up to those that ventured out into the wilds to make sure they came back. Self-reliance and the ability to think; to find a route where others may have stumbled; these were the essential tools of the back country adventurer.

Of course, these days there’s an app for all that. Outdoor apps that “connect you with nature” are a growing phenomenon. No smartphone is complete without Google Maps. You can download all NZ Topomaps as an extension to the free app Outdoor Atlas.  MotionX GPS tracks your location while skiing, hiking, running, sailing, geocaching and more. The new NZ-made  ‘Get Home Safe’ app takes it even one step further; it tracks your position and calls for help if you’re missing in action.

It seems these days that true wilderness has been reduced to those small pockets that still don’t have cell coverage.

Google Trekker hits the Abel Tasman. Photo: Project Janszoon

Google Trekker hits the Abel Tasman. Photo: Project Janszoon

A few weeks ago the big news was that Google Street View’s Trekker camera was hitting the Abel Tasman Track, with plans to complete all nine Great Walks of New Zealand. The Trekker – a wearable backpack with a camera on top – has been specially designed to photograph places that are only accessible by foot. Great Walks our premium tracks – well managed and booked – but still remote. The back country of New Zealand will soon be viewed from the comfort of your ergonomically-designed desk chair.

Reading through the archives of Media Platypus this might seem like old news to some of you folks as they visited Canada months ago.  And I love Cal’s discussion on the subject of creating connections to places through virtual experiences. I do really; I’m not just sucking up. I also agree with quite a few of the comments below.  And  I wonder, are we not perhaps, getting to the point where we are giving too much away? In our rush to add more and more content online; to adopt these new ways of telling stories, are we stopping to ask why? Why are we not putting more into making sure more people have the real experience? How do we, as interpreters and managers of wilderness make sure people still value the “real thing” – that they are not content with just the virtual version of wilderness?

A new TV series called “Wild about New Zealand” also visited Abel Tasman this week. It has provided added value to the on-screen experience, with a series of complimentary ‘how to’ video clips such as ‘family friendly tips’. I’m sure it will inspire some families to give the great outdoors a go. But we can and should do more. To become truly “Wild about New Zealand”, you need to experience it!

Just in time for me to get to the point, Richard Louv published this education blog and a great quote that sums it up:

“For every dollar that is spent on the virtual, another dollar must be spent on the real.”
Richard Louv.

This is as true for interpretation as it is for education. Perhaps, as my good friend Robinne suggests, the time is right for a “Get Lost!” movement. Who’s with me?

You will never believe how golden the sand is at Abel Tasman until you sink your feet into it.

You will never believe how golden the sand is at Abel Tasman until you see it for yourself…

 

Visiting Through the Screen

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(photo credit: BBC Nature)

(photo credit: BBC Nature)

A few years ago, I was leading a guided hike in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. The program was for a group of junior high students in a near-urban park where black bears and cougars sometimes frequent. Everything was new to these kids. It was like they had never had a moment outside their perfectly groomed yards before.

During the hike, I did notice something odd, though. Every time I stopped to show these 15 kids something neat – a bat house, skunk cabbage, or bear claw marks on a tree – out came 15 phones to snap pictures and capture video. Then they would huddle together to show each other and send photos/video to their friends. The kids were experiencing nature through their phones! At first it annoyed me. Why can’t people step away from their technology for one hour to enjoy their surroundings? But, then I realized something else. The technology was just a conduit, a go-between through which these students connect with nature. In some ways, it isn’t so different from experiencing nature through your binoculars or camera.

As interpreters, we are tasked with connecting people with “the real thing.” And, even though first-hand experiences are our ultimate goal, are they the only meaningful way that people can connect with nature (or culture/history/science/art/whatever else you interpret)?

I remember enjoying a CD-ROM I once received as a gift in the 1990s. Yes, remember CD-ROMs? Well, this one was called the “Digital Field Trip to the Rainforest,” produced by a Canadian company called Digital Frog International (named because of their clever use of technology to save frogs from biology class dissections). It was wonderful. Basically, it was a guided walk through an actual rainforest trail in Belize, Central America. Each stop had a 360 degree view of a stop along that trail. There were little pop-ups with info on plants and animals, interactive games, and puzzles. I remember feeling very connected with rainforests, even though I wasn’t actually there. If you had asked me to reach into my MC Hammer pants and pull out money to donate to rainforest conservation, I wouldn’t have hesitated.

Now that's a backpack! Google employee hiking in front of Green Gables House in PEI National Park (photo credit: The Guardian Newspaper)

Now that’s a backpack! Google employee hiking in front of Green Gables House in PEI National Park
(photo credit: The Guardian Newspaper)

Why do I bring this up? Well, flash forward 15 years to today. Google has just formed a partnership with Parks Canada to use its streetview technology in various national parks in Canada. Right now, as I type, Google employees are travelling all around the land of Anne of Green Gables – Prince Edward Island National Park. With 360 degree cameras mounted on backpacks, they are hiking various trails and visiting historic buildings. Once online, anyone with an internet connection will be able to visit many of Canada’s iconic parks from anywhere in the world.

Undoubtedly, many people will criticize this approach and say that nothing can compare with the thrill of actually visiting these places. And, they would be mostly right. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.  Connection can happen many different ways, and some people might never get to visit these wonderful places except online.

Case in point – seven years ago, I started doing short television segments about Metro Vancouver Parks.  They took a few days to plan and film, but they were very far reaching, viewed by as many as 40,000 people per airing. At the time, we debated if my time would be better spent connecting actual visitors to these places, or if I should spend some of my time doing video clips to reach a large number of people that might not ever visit. You can see me in one of these segments here (After watching “Hidden Wonders” try watching “Bats”). Well, now there is no question in my mind. People felt very attached to these video segments. We reached people who visit the parks regularly, as well as people that can’t, sometimes due to disabilities or other barriers. And, in the end, these clips received more online hits than another clip of a building demolition (bats before buildings!).

I’ve watched video clips of arctic parks and international destinations that I may never get to in my lifetime. Yet, I feel powerfully connected to them. In the end, perhaps it is not important how people connect with these places, only that they feel a connection at all.

Spam Spam Spam Spam!

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photograph of a can of SPAM

Spam! Photo by Dave Crosby and retrieved from Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

This is a tale about spam.

Not the overly salty, state meat of Hawai’i spam, but comment spam. Not the creation of Hormel, used to feed our hungry, greatest generation troops, marketed as “tasty pork shoulder and ham” on the old Burns & Allen Radio Show, but the spam that we all see, the spam that is unfortunately part of everyone’s digital life. So what else is there to say?

Well, first, a few metrics about why Spam is important to know something about. In a quick search, I’ve found these stats, which, sadly, are not all that surprising:

  1. 14.5 billion spam messages are generated each day.
  2. Researchers estimate that spam makes up somewhere between 45 and 73% of all emails.
  3. The United States is the largest generator (and receiver) of spam messages.
  4. Spam costs businesses over $20 billion dollars annually.
  5. 90% of all spam is in English, but relax. In 2012, it was 96%.

One of the frustrating things about writing a blog is that it’s quite difficult to measure the effects of what I write. We count on comments for feedback. It’s one thing to look at the statistics of hits, but the feedback lets us know what you’re thinking about what we’re thinking.

Unfortunately, most of the comments we receive here at Media Platypus are spam. Obvious, crude, idiotic spam, but at least they’re different than the ones that hit my inbox. These are bot-generated attempts to submit comments that they hope will be posted, assuming that our readers are dumb enough to click on their links. Fortunately, WordPress, our host, is pretty good about identifying spam, and we moderate all of the comments. Here are a couple of interesting examples, with the links redacted:

  • michael kors handbags…Simple scratches and dents to the bodywork are easy to repair using a soft mallet for panel beating and abrasive paper, spray paint and filler for paintwork repairs….
  • Alexander Wang online…I enjoy you because of your own labor on this web site. My aunt really loves participating in research and it’s obvious why. Most of us hear all relating to the dynamic tactic you offer very helpful guides by means of the web site and even recommend p…
  • Louis Vuitton Outlet…How perhaps you have create a blog appear this sick!? Email me should you get the ability and share your perception. Id be appreciative!…

You get the idea. When I have time to read them, they kind of crack me up, because I just can’t understand how they think they could fool anyone. And it’s a good thing that I’m patient with them because there seems to have been a delay in my latest financial plan, which involves receiving a rather large payment from a very highly placed officer in a Nigerian bank, but I digress.

After a couple of weeks of seeing this nonsense, you think you’ve seen what spam looks like and you think you have it nailed, but a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to learn about a whole new and somewhat more sophisticated attempt to spam us at my workplace. This one is pretty cool, and whoever is running it has actually gone to a bit of work. For this part of the story, I’ve included several links that are safe and won’t harm your computer, but I recommend that you don’t click on links within the sites I refer to. Spam and malware is an insidious and thoroughly evil thing, and there’s no sense in taunting or playing with evil things, okay?

Many people know that I work at the California State Railroad Museum, which is the largest institution of its type in North America, and one of the largest in the world. We are pretty well known and pretty popular, and we regularly hear and get questions from across the country and around the world. One day, we received this email to our info account:

This is an enquiry e-mail via http://www.csrmf.org/ from:
Jessica King <jessicak@laramiepubliclibrary.net>

Hi California State Railroad Museum!

My name is Jessica and I am writing to you on behalf of the Laramie Public Library. I’d like to thank you for offering some great info on your page – http://www.csrmf.org/visitor-information/links – I have been referring to it as I gather new materials on trains and railroads, and many of the resources on your page have been a huge help!

I’d also like to let you know about this great guide on model trains that one of our local railroad enthusiasts, Derek, came across while helping me:
Model Trains and More Freight Hobbies!
http://redacted link

It’d be great if you could include this page on your website! Derek (a high school sophomore) and I have found it to be very informative and we think the people who visit your site will find it to be quite interesting, too!

Thanks for your time, and please shoot me an e-mail if you decide to add this to your site. Derek would be thrilled to see that he’s helping to share information on a topic he is so passionate about!

Jessica King
jessicak@laramiepubliclibrary.net

We get a lot of things in this general vein, but something just didn’t ring quite true. With a lot of the unsolicited emails we get, I often will just google the address or at least open it in a browser. If nothing else, it helps me understand who I might be corresponding with, so I can better answer their questions. On this one though, there were some red flags:

  • the .net domain for a public library seemed weird. I expected a .gov or perhaps .wy.us .
  • “Jessica” seems to be speaking on behalf of “Derek,” who is allegedly a High School sophomore. She seems to have no title (librarian, researcher, volunteer, etc.,) and she’s endorsing something from a High Schooler. I’m kinda thinking that even if Derek isn’t allowed to use email, she might have had him write his own query even if she sent it from her own account.
  • If “Derek” is doing research, and contacts the largest railroad research library in the country, why isn’t he asking us a question?

So off I went to look at the “library” site,  laramiepubliclibrary.net, which seemed not overtly spammy or phony, but there were a couple of things that stuck out:

  1. there’s no indication where the physical facility is, what their hours are, etc. Hmmmm.
  2. The website appears very clean and template based, but seems a bit odd that it doesn’t seem to reflect anything that would seem Wyoming related to me. After all, libraries should and usually are reflections of the community.

So then I Googled “Laramie Public Library” (https://www.google.com/search?q=laramie+public+library&aq=f&oq=laramie+public+library&aqs=chrome.0.57j60l3j0l2.12595j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#safe=off&hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=what+is+laramie+public+library&oq=what+is+laramie+public+library&gs_l=serp.3..33i29i30l4.20409.32228.1.33652.34.32.2.0.0.0.193.2316.29j3.32.0…0.0…1c.1.12.psy-ab.P-K7Mcn_ZWc&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45960087,d.cGE&fp=59522ab026b941d4&biw=1092&bih=837 )

I note that laramiepubliclibrary.net does indeed come up in the search results, but the real Library in Laramie, Wyoming is the Albany County Public Library. There is also a Laramie County Library System (www.lclsonline.org/) with libraries in Cheyenne, Pine Bluffs and Burns Wyoming. None of these seem to be connected with laramiepubliclibrary.net , and outside of a website with, admittedly, several layers of pages that look good, but ultimately are just generic nonsense, there’s nothing there.

Then I went to the page that “Jessica” and “Derek” endorsed, which is a rather shallow essay about something related to model railroads, then I went to the site’s home page. It’s for a company that deals with shipping logistics.

The site itself is an ersatz blog. I don’t know the details of this stuff, but there are web consultants who encourage companies to set up blog sites rather than a traditional web presence, with the theory being that their customers may return for repeat visits if there is new content, and that a blog may appear more personal than a regular website, plus it’s cheaper than a real website. I’ve seen several of these. Some of the blog entries tend to go into weird subjects not even remotely related to the company’s business, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are people who write essays on all sorts of subjects that are sold or provided to these sites as part of a site management strategy.

So to test this, I searched Google using phrases from the essay about model trains. Many times you can match entire paragraphs of generic content with other online sources– it’s one of the quick and dirty ways to find plagarism. I didn’t match the essay, but I found a site that seems to have dozens or hundreds of nonsense phrases and sentences. If you’re interested, you can go to: http://static.212.35.9.5.clients.your-server.de/dmi3/temp/4x4_english.txt . It’s a just a text file. My fave is

  • In April 2001, a boy wandered away from his family and was discovered dead, with indications of a dingo attack.

This gets back to some of the comments we receive here at Media Platypus. They likely don’t originate from whoever put this particular site together, but it’s the same sort of stuff, and it’s a huge global business. If you glance through the file, the variety and sheer insanity of the variety of phrases is incredible. I also climbed up the file tree in this site, and there are other pages, even a list of names (which I assume are generated names for spam emails and such) as well as some of those pages I occasionally see when doing a broad search for a subject, that are weird lists of shopping sources for something. Here’s an example: http://static.212.35.9.5.clients.your-server.de/links1.html

What does it all mean?

In our case, it means that this spammer seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble to try and get us to link to some inane essay for no discernable reason. I simply don’t understand what benefit the logistics company might get from this. It seems like a lot of work for nothing.

Secondly, this seems to speak of a bit of human interaction in making spam more sophisticated. Someone had to create this site. It uses a professional template, and unlike a lot of foreign sites, there seems to be good grammar and spelling, so it’s not as obvious as many things we know absolutely to be spam.

Was all of this created specifically to spam the California State Railroad Museum? Nah. I suspect that “Jessica” sends lots of emails on behalf of “Derek” to enthusiastically promote “his” discovery of information about trains, carpeting, heirloom tomatoes, ball bearings, analgesics, roofing materials and perhaps kiwi smoothies.

Frankly, I’m kind of impressed with this level of sophistication, and as a communicator, any method of communicating interests me, but it’s also something to keep in mind to keep our social media and online presence relevant and safe for our audience to visit. It’s just another thing to know.

p.s. I’ve just got to admit that I’m sort of looking forward to seeing what kind of spam comments will be generated  and sent as comments to this post. There seems to be a kind of “circle of life” quality to the possiblity. In the meantime, here are a couple of goodies:

Worst spam comment found on a Google search: http://thinkclickandgrowrich.com/550/wordpress-comment-spam-from-joel-comm/

Museum of comment spam: http://thecommentspamblog.wordpress.com/

And of course, the absolute best expression of spam, EVER:

 

Living in a Glass House

1

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Perhaps because it was announced on Google +, which I, like most of the universe, don’t really follow much anymore, I was unaware of Google Glass until a week or so ago. One of my news feeds had an article about a Seattle Dive Bar (really? Dive Bars in Seattle?) that had banned Google Glass, saying that “an a** kicking will be encouraged for violators” who dared to wear them at the 5 Point Cafe.

stylized image showing google glass and an eye with a red slash across it.

“Google Glass is Banned” sticker used at the 5 Point Cafe.

My first thought was ?? Who in the heck does a** kicking in Seattle? followed by ?? What in the heck is Google Glass? After a bit of research, I’m reasonably sure that if I were to visit Seattle soon, there’s very little chance that I would have my a-double asterisks kicked, at least for wearing Google Glass.

So what’s all the hubub about, Bub? Well, Google Glass is yet another weirdly innovative project from the Googlians down in Silicon Valley. It’s actually a pair of glasses that both send out what you see and provides you with information overlays. You can  look at it as a way to expand your internet presence and reach, a horrible invasion of privacy, a loss of our humanity, a further melding of humanity and technology, or a physical manifestation of ADD. I suppose that it/they are all that and more.

photos of people wearing Google Glass

Here’s how dumb people look when wearing these things.

So what are these things? They’re actually glasses, with a prism attached to the right bow on the glasses. This nifty little thing is basically a webcam, microphone and browser all rolled into one.

In use, you are sending data in sort of a cinema-verite way, and based on what the camera sees, you’re receiving datasets. If you’ve ever seen movies showing fighter pilots looking through helmets or windows that contain integrated data displays,

Google Glass

Google Glass

you might know what I mean.

But there’s more. “OK Google” you say, “what’s the weather?” will trigger an on-screen weather summary. “OK Google, email Jerry– Are you busy this afternoon?” supposedly sends an email to Jerry, and his response will appear in your vision. “OK Google, Tweet “Google Glass seems kinda stupid, and not funny-stupid in the “Big Bang Theory” kind of way.

Now there are a lot of things related to Google Glass that don’t seem to make much sense to me, including why it’s called “Google Glass” instead of “Google Glasses.” There are also the obvious privacy issues, which is why the 5 Point Cafe wants nothing to do with them, but honestly, the 5 Point Cafe isn’t a dive bar in the way that I understand them. For one thing, I’ve never heard of a dive bar that has a website, and when I look at their photos, it’s not much of a dive. But aside from that, how intrusive do we want social media to be in our lives? I suppose that it’s ultimately up to the end user, but homo sapiens is a pretty weird species, and I’m not sure if I can trust all of my fellow man to understand when to turn the darned things off.

There are also safety concerns for wearers. Imagine trying to drive with all sorts of data coming into your view whether you like it or not. Even pedestrians could logically be at risk– there are known issues with pedestrians being injured while texting and even talking on the phone, and I’m one of those who gets pretty peeved at people who talk while driving. Google Glass would be a lot worse.

Now I know that I sound pretty negative here, and that as this kind of technology progresses, our social norms, legislation, social pressure and other issues will follow along with both good and bad results, but right now, I think that Google is giving us yet another example of “just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.” On the other hand, Google glass is very ripe for parody. If you want to see the official video, go to www.google.com/glass/start/ but I prefer the video below:

 

Google Floorplan: That’s A Name, Not A Search Term

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photograph of the google indoor camera equipment

One of the interpretive sites I work at is pretty large compared to many interpretive sites—the primary campus for the California State Railroad Museum is over 200,000 square feet. Of course, this is nothing compared to, say, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg Russia, the Louvre in Paris, or any of the units of the Smithsonian, but it’s large enough.

We are also well-known, so there are entities who want to partner with us for increasing their visibility. Politicians, historians, railroad companies, even bands often come to us wanting to use the venue to make a visual and emotional connection. Google is not one of those entities who need us.

After all, Google pretty much rules the search engine business. Google owns YouTube, the most widely used video platform. Google maps pretty much rule the roost. Heck, “google” is both a trade name and a verb, and it achieved that status much more quickly than, say ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Xerox’ did. In fact, just as I’m writing this today, Google has released a new Google maps app for the iphone to replace Apple’s really poor substitute, and Google rose 1.3% while Apple dropped another percent.

So imagine my surprise when I received not one, but two emails from actual, verified Googlians. They are suddenly very interested in coming to the California State Railroad Museum. And get this– they wanna map the inside of the facility!

This is actually pretty cool, and there are two things going on. First of all, Google wants to map the interior of our public spaces, and we’ve already given them our floorplan maps so they can show the interior of the building. For us, this will work because, like I said, the main campus is HUGE. As we continue to use and possess more and more smart devices– phones, tablets, perhaps ankle bracelets for some of my “friends” (ahem,) then you might be actually able to find, say a child who’s wandered off inside a museum or art gallery or shopping mall. You could arrange to meet your friends at the Mona Lisa, or even specify which table they can find you at in a restaurant. Google indoor views have already been added to some of the large casinos on the Vegas strip. Compare the view of New York New York between the satellite view and indoor map view. Imagine that you’ve never been there before. Which makes more sense?

Satellite view

Map view

Full disclosure– I’ve increased the saturation of the Google map portion in Photoshop to make it easier to read. The contrast is actually pretty low in the actual map view. Setting that aside though, which one do you think would be more useful for a newbie to navigate with?

I thought so.

Of course, compared with a casino, whose floorplans are widely thought to be consciously designed to prevent you from ever seeing daylight again, our facility is much, much simpler.

Basically, to provide a floorplan, all you have to do is to upload it, and match three anchor points over a map view of the facility. We’ve done this. The next step, of course, is the paperwork. We have to certify to Google that we are the owners, we are responsible for the content, and that the content is accurate. We also need to work with Google to ensure than non-public areas are not shown. Google will then send out some Googlians to collect some data points with GPS units so that they are sure of the accuracy, and they will redraw what we provided in a manner that’s consistent with their standards.All of this makes sense. I hope that we get this done soon, but I work for a governmental agency, and deliberation and delay are part of the decision process. I’m pretty sure that we’ll get there though.

Photograph of a car with Google Street view cameras on the roof

Google Streetview car receiving a ticket.

photograph of the google indoor view camera

The Google ice cream cart/indoor camera.

The second thing that’s going on is that another portion of Google maps has contacted us about doing street view inside the museum. Have you ever seen the Google vehicles shooting streetview images? The indoor streetview does essentially the same thing, but with an ice cream cart.

We have a few more hurdles for this one. Logistically, we’ll have to arrange probably several evenings after we close so that visitors aren’t in the images. This will make the dataset cleaner, plus eliminate any privacy issues that might pop up. The second issue that I foresee is to have our curators check on any copyright issues for visual media that we have. We display historic signs, paintings, photographs, trade labels, company trademarks, and original visual media that we need to check on, just in case we don’t have the rights to show them in this new way. If there are any issues, Google will simply blur the object to make it unrecognizable, just like they do for me when I keep jumping in front of their cameras as they cruise town.

I’m not exactly sure when we’ll get to this step- I’m still working on coordinating our staff and the Google reps, and then they’ll have to make one or more trips here with their equipment, but I’m thinking that this will be pretty cool. I’m not a shill for Google, and I’ve had my own difficulties with them, but this is pretty cool.

Or it’s another horrible example of losing privacy, of reducing the joy-inducing unknowns that I and many others have when we come to new places, or it’s part of the homogenization of the world. I suppose that it’s whatever you want it to be, like most new media that we talk about here. Part of me has that lingering dread of cheapening and dumbing down of our society, but hey, these are all just tools. They can be used for good or bad purposes. I prefer to see the exciting possiblities, and yet another new way of connecting with our audiences.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, then read about it on Mashable at mashable.com/2012/11/23/google-maps-floor-plans/ , try maps.google.com/help/maps/floorplans/ for some general help and an overview, or take a look at some of the places where there are floorplans available, at support.google.com/gmm/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1685827 . Since Google is the owner of the Android operating system, the technology so far seems to be skewed toward Android users, but there’s a desktop app, and I’m pretty sure that an iphone app will appear eventually.

And in the meantime, happy holidays everyone!

 

 

 

My Dysfunctional, Co-dependent, Love-Hate Relationship with Google

5

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Dear Google:

I hate you. No, not really. How could I hate you? You’ve helped me through so many tough projects, you’ve enlightened my life. You’ve given me access to the Library of Congress, you help me understand the weather each day. You provide me with some of my email, give me a place to store documents that I can retrieve from nearly anywhere. You’ve helped me explore the earth and show cool things to others.

No, wait, I hate you. I hate you with a passion that goes beyond all understanding. Remember this email that you sent me in July?

Google Map Maker ✆ mapmaker@google.com
to me

Hello,

Thank you for reporting this feature (url redacted )

We have observed that this feature is of importance, hence it is
locked on Mapmaker for editing. We would like to request you to report the
same issue on maps referring to this link (url redacted )  so that
the
concerned team can look into it and rectify the same.

Inconvenience is deeply regretted.

Thanks for your co operation.

If you have additional questions, please visit the Google Map Maker Help
Center at
http://www.google.com/maps/mapmaker/mapfiles/s/support.html, where you
will find answers to many frequently asked questions about Google Map
Maker.

All I did, Google, was try and follow your instructions. I did EXACTLY what you asked me to do! I got a mapmaker account. You asked me to review areas that I’m familiar with, and I identified a place in Old Sacramento State Historic Park where you show a transit stop for a train. I know for a fact that the train does not stop or even travel where you have this icon on your doggone map; heck, this is a State Park that I work in and I walk by this location five times per week minimum!

I sent you this error; I sent you a correction, referencing it to the latitude/longitude as you ask for; I even explained my relationship to the Park so that you would know who(m) I represent, and that I’m serious. Your response is that this feature is important, so it’s “locked.” Heck, I know it’s important! That’s why I’m trying to correct the error, but Google, you don’t give me any other way to comment to you. I really hate our poor communication. You never listen to me anymore.

Then there’s this email from your alter ego, YouTube:

YouTube help center | e-mail options | report spam
Dear psexton,EMI has reviewed your dispute and reinstated its copyright claim on your video, “Stanford film.m4v“. For more information, please visit your Copyright NoticespageSincerely,
– The YouTubeTeam
© 2012 YouTube, LLC
901 Cherry Ave, San Bruno, CA 94066

Yeah, you remember this, don’cha! You suspended viewing of a video I created in every single country that honors copyright protections because some idiot in Germany claims that I used their music track behind this video. I patiently explained to you that no, the music tracks were my own creation, built in Apple’s Garage Band. I even gave you the build reference for my version of Garage Band and the name of the public domain loop within Garage Band! I quoted some of the Apple Terms of Use that explain that these are in public domain!!! And who in the heck in Germany would claim copyright on a dad-gum bagpipe loop?!

C’mon Google! I laid out my case, and quite completely. I wasn’t lying to you baby! But still, you reject what I say to you and you won’t listen anymore. YOU AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION TO ME!!!!

Oh Google, what have I done? I have a Google account; I’ve written and spoken about the joys of soaring across Google Earth, of using the mapmaker feature to help improve the information you provide to BILLIONS of people. I’ve customized my iGoogle page with a “Pearls Before Swine” theme, which makes me smile. I support you! I won’t use Bing, don’t really like Yahoo, and I’m not sure if Ask Jeeves or Alta Vista even exist anymore. Once I found you I never turned back. I never complained about my image or my address on Google maps or Google Earth. I even have a couple of YouTube accounts! I’ve never bootlegged music, don’t search through bittorrent streams looking for recordings that I don’t want to pay for; I don’t click on links for male enhancement or get rich quick schemes…

That’s it, isn’t it. You hate me because I don’t click on your ad supported links. Am I cutting into your bottom line, Google? Is it because I use an iPhone and not an Android device? Is it?

Wow, pretty petty on your part Google! You’ll never get ahead that way.

But oh Google! Your simple interface is just so clean. Your imagery on maps, your new features in Earth, your cloud drive is just so sexy! And don’t even get me started on Google Docs. Grrrrr! Me likey!

But honestly Google, I can’t stand ya. You tease and taunt me with your possibilities, your lightning fast search results and thousands of images, some actually useful, when I search for them through you. I love the little jokes that we have, like when I ask you to give me the answer to life, the universe and everything. OH GOOGLE!!! I can’t stand you, but again, I can’t live without you. Please leave me alone! Quit frustrating me! Don’t ever leave, please? Can’t you just be nice for once?

Leave me alone. I need just one decent night’s sleep! I hate you I hate you I hate you!!!

Love you always,

/s/PHIL