Tag 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

Digital Dysphoria, or I Use Both An iPhone and Android, Sometimes Simultaneously

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photograph of two cell phones
photograph of two cell phones

iPhone 5S and Galaxy SIII

I have to admit that I’m a huge Apple fan. Not as big as I used to be, since I’ve lost about seven pounds in the past month, but I really like Apple products. So it was with a lot of geeky delight when my brand-new iPhone 5S arrived in the mail. It replaced my three-year old iPhone 4.

The 5S is the one with the fingerprint sensor, where you can get it in gold (mine is grey) and it has a blindingly fast processor that most of the current apps can’t utilize. I’m really glad that I have it, but when I paid the Visa bill, I had more than just a bit of buyer’s remorse. These things ain’t cheap, you know.

Coincidentally, about three weeks ago, my employer replaced my nearly five-year old Blackberry with a Samsung Galaxy III running the Android OS. It has a huge touch screen, seems a bit thinner than the iPhone, and has the feature that lets you ‘bump’ music files or other data to a friend on the same platform. I think that this is an NFC (near field communication) chip, but I’m not sure. It also runs flash, which is verboten within the Apple iOS. The change from a Blackberry with a physical keyboard to this sophisticated smartphone when I’m getting used to both a new iPhone but also Apple’s new iOS7 has given me what I can only describe as a bit of digital dysphoria (hey! look it up!)

I don’t want to be drawn into a pointless debate about which phone is “better.” If you like one platform over the other, that’s great, and perhaps I’m even interested in your opinion. You’re certainly entitled to it, but I wanted to share some of my personal observations. I’m thinking that outside of people who review these things for a living, there probably aren’t many people who regularly use both platforms., so here’s my very unscientific review of both.

“Wait a minute!” you cry, “what does this have to do with interpretive social media?” Quite a bit, I think. Here at Media Platypus, we’ve gone into many odd places, from talking about ceramic tiles used for QR codes in Brazil to analyzing Facebook metrics, to 3-d printers to our outright fawning over the genius of our patron saint, George Takei. I think that in this case, knowing something about the end user experience on different platforms should be considered by app developers and interpreters who use or utilize social media. So again, here’s my anecdotal review:

The Galaxy III has a larger screen, 4.8″ versus 4″ for my iPhone. However, it generally doesn’t look as crisp and sharp as the Apple Retina display. Turns out that this is due to something called “pen tile” display. According to engadget, Samsung believes that you’ll put the phone farther from your eyes than you would an iPhone, so the difference would not be readily apparent. To me, there is a difference in crispness. Additionally, Samsung is kind of cheating on screen size by incorporating the ‘home’ button into the screen. It is so small, and with a similar sized Samsung label on top, it’s difficult for me to tell which end is up when I pull the phone out of my pocket. The visible, round ‘home’ button on the iPhone makes this a lot more obvious.

The Galaxy III is louder than my iPhone, for ringtones, voicemail on speaker, and .mp3 files, but the speaker is pretty crummy compared to my iPhone. I’m not sure how a speaker half the size of a fingernail can have any fidelity, but my iPhone has better low-end response and resonates a bit more. I would call a draw on the included ring and alert tones, though I really love the Sci-Fi ringtone on my iPhone for my crazy friend Robert. On the Galaxy, I really like the default mail alert ring of a bell. It seems just right.

Ergonomically, I definitely like my iPhone better. There are a whole lot of bells and whistles on the Galaxy SIII that add more richness to the user experience, but things like a vibration when I go from landscape to portrait orientation, or a tactile vibration as I type on the virtual keyboard just annoy me and constantly make me wonder if something is loose on the phone. On my iPhone, there’s a resonant click when I use the keyboard, which seems a lot more suitable for something the size of a phone.

This goes into how users interact with technology generally, and frankly I like Apple ergonomics generally better than other manufacturers, whether it’s my Macbook Pro, my iPad or my iPhone. I also use a Lenovo laptop and of course the Galaxy phone, as well as a Dell desktop on occasion, but the Apple organization, tactile feedback and sounds just seem more organically appropriate, EXCEPT for Apple’s stupid refusal to adopt a two button mouse for computers, but even that is mitigated by the wonderful trackpad experience compared to any PC trackpad I’ve ever used, but I digress.

photograph of a cell phone and user's manual

The Galaxy SIII with its owner’s manual of 34 pages and safety information for 61 pages.

Closely related to ergonomics is the concept of intuitive use. How simple is it for you to divine how to use technology? Here, it seems pretty close to me, but again I’ll have to side with my iPhone, if for no other reason than comparing the instruction manual. The photos ought to show you which one the manufacturers believe to be more intuitive. For me, the most glaring disconnect with the Galaxy is that re-arranging the icons to get my most-used apps to come up first is just complicated enough that I haven’t really done it yet, and it’s disconcerting that my home screen seems to show different icon screens every time I unlock the phone. I’ll assume that this is probably user error. Ditto with my problem with apparently turning off the ringer at least once per day as I put the phone into its case.

photograph of an iPhone

iPhone 5S with its owner’s manual of zero pages

Just to make it weirder, I still have trouble figuring out how to shut down and re-boot the Galaxy. In fairness though, I also had to figure it out for my iPhone, but now that I know, it still seems more intuitive.

I’d like to be complimentary toward the Android keyboard, but it just doesn’t work for my style, though that’s probably because I am better used to the iPhone spacing, which is slightly different. My typo rate is probably 25% versus 10%, and the Android OS doesn’t do auto-correct, but instead suggests alternate spellings, if you’re smart enough to actually look at them, which I’m not. All things being equal, I honestly preferred the physical buttons on my late Blackberry, but that was pretty much the only good thing about it. By the way, on the Galaxy, the voice command button sits right next to the spacebar, and it’s hard to talk to something that you don’t really have much in common with, but in fairness, Siri and I are only mildly acquainted as well.

Apps are one place where there is a clear difference, certainly in app production and sales. In a certain way, I do like the freedom of Google Play compared to Apple’s App Store. As of July, Android apps (roughly one million) beat App Store apps (roughly 900,000) but I’m not sure if quantity is a good metric of what is “better.” I’ve tried to set up the same apps on both the Android and the iPhone when possible, and frankly Google Play seems just a bit more easy going when searching and downloading apps than Apple’s app store does. Maybe it’s because I’m not rigidly locked into the Appleverse. In any case, though I’m not really a gamer, I’ve been impressed with all of the apps I’ve seen. Just to be fair, my tendencies are toward social media, productivity and apps that play old radio shows, and this probably isn’t a fair comparison to sophisticated gaming apps. In any case, the apps all seem to work well on each platform.

I could go on pointlessly for quite a while, but perhaps not. I’m learning to peacefully coexist with both platforms, even though there is some intermittent confusion. Both are good phones. I’m aware that the Android seems to drain the battery more quickly, but if I turn off location services on some apps I’ll get a longer battery life, but that might allow more people to call me, so I’ve gotta think about that.

I’d really appreciated (constructive) feedback about your experience on either platform, so feel free to let me know what you think. All in all though, I think that I’m pretty happy that I didn’t get a Windows phone:

 

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:

 

Historypin Is Not A Wrestling Move For Old People!

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For whatever reason, I seem to have morphed into the guy here at Media Platypus who comments on new ideas and technology (at least to me) in social media that relate to interpretive communication. Sure, you can comment and demonstrate your memes, or work baseball metaphors into everything you write, perhaps clone yourself with a 3-d printer, and sometimes I wish that I had those talents. But I’m still looking for the holy grail of interpretive social media. I want something that

  • communicates visually and/or aurally
  • something that packs a punch
  • something that’s easy to use and understand
  • something that involves my audience, invites participation, and is genuinely interpretive.

Yeah, I put three items into the last bullet. The list was getting too long. Anyway, as I was saying, I’m always looking for something that’s perfect, free and will catch on. So far, my batting average is somewhere north of nothing, south of everything, but I’ll keep trying.

Yesterday I was introduced to a website called historypin (www.historypin.org) which is a wonderfully simple idea; just pin images, or audio, or video files onto a map. People can then look for photos by clicking on them using a Google map interface. Better yet, you can also pin them to Google Street View to overlay an historic photo on today’s street view.

composite photo of an small iron crane used for lifting freight off and onto railcars. The lefthand view is circa 1917. The righthand view is from February 2011

Ex-SPRR freight crane compared circa 1917 and 2011, in Old Sacramento State Historic Park

So what? Who cares? In some ways, this is kind of similar to the use of Panoramio photos on Google Earth. Panoramio is kind of the death of Google Earth for research, and those stupid squares everywhere on the landforms are just annoying (unless of course you turn the layer off.) It seems like any jackanape can post their idiotic photos on Google Earth, and many of them are mis-located and mis-identified. I hope that doesn’t happen with historypin.

“HP,” which definitely does NOT refer to Hewlett-Packard in this use, was created by a nifty non-profit called called We Are What We Do. “WAWWD” is a London-based group who works to change public attitudes about things. From their mission statement, they “work with and for 100s of companies and charities to help them engage more people and do more good.” Historypin is one of their ideas–a way to engage people with the land, with the past, and with society, wonderfully simple and wonderfully brilliant.

Here’s where it connects with interpreters, communications, and social media. Look again at the snippet of their mission statement. Isn’t it true in the larger sense that interpreters want to “help engage more people and do more good”? Doesn’t this get right to the heart of Tilden’s principle of interpretation provoking people?

Our society is morphing at a pace that is tremendous and awful in speed. I work in historic interpretation, and though I’m not really afraid of the future, and I genuinely enjoy my creature comforts and modern technology, I find context, comfort and fulfillment in the past. I joke about it when people ask me why I enjoy history so much. I tell them that it’s nice to know that Hitler will lose, but people who engage with history understand not only this ‘comfort food’ view, but also know that, by understanding our past, we may avoid some mistakes in the future.

By understanding where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we can provide a direction for the future and help us to understand the present. I haven’t yet had time to dig much into historypin yet, but I can tell you that it can help us do these things. For those who work with more natural history than I do, historypin can also help you spread outreach about natural resources. As an aside, by the way, I really don’t see a divide between cultural and natural history. Our culture is a reaction to and dependent on natural resources (or scarcity thereof) and our environment is a result of the interactions between society and nature, but that’s another story entirely.

For those of us who work in public agencies or non-profits, who desperately want to share our resources with everyone, but are stymied by budgets, timeframes, resource and staff shortages, this can be a wonderful opportunity to expand our reach. We can share images, video, and audio. Just imagine the possibilities!

I talk about this stuff all the time, which really annoys my cat and my wife, occasionally interrupting their sleep. One of the complaints I get is that if I focus on these non-personal ways of communication, then I must not care about face-to-face contact. Nonsense! Nothing about digital or non-personal interpretive media can ever replace in-person contacts. Nothing I can write in a description or record in a video can anticipate or react to body language or subtle nuance, or take advantage of interpretive moments. Digital technology shouldn’t be thought of as replacing humans interacting with one another (though we know it happens all the time.) Rather, these technologies are opportunities to expand our audience, to show things that we may not be able to show or demonstrate in person, or to visit vast areas that would not be logically possible in a physical sense.

Methinks that I doth protest too much sometimes. Maybe this video will help some to understand why I’m so excited by this. Now, if I can just find the time to comb our archives for interesting photos and information to share. Lack of time is the ultimate barrier to getting everything done that I’d like to work on; how about you?

 

Living in a Glass House

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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!

 

 

 

A Few Minutes Late, But With Just Cause: NAI National Workshop!

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Photo of Region 9 members in front of the Hampton Convention Center, also showing the Hampton Coliseum in the background.

Greetings from Region 9!

It’s Thursday morning here in Hampton, and I’m obligated to post for the Platypus this Wednesday, which ended on the East coast about 35 minutes ago. A couple of weeks ago I traded with Cal Martin, for what seemed like a perfectly good reason at the time, but now after midnight, I’m cursing Cal for being such a slacker. Dang you Cal! And the horse you rode in on!

In earlier posts on Twitter, here on the Platypus and on our Facebook page, you’ve seen us brag that this will be the most social national workshop ever,and I’m happy to confirm that this is coming true. Perhaps not in all the ways that we envisioned, but one should never let one’s reach exceed one’s grasp, whatever that means.

What it means to me is that if you search on Twitter (or Google for that matter) for #NAI2012, you’ll find content that’s relative to your interest in interpretation. Some of it silly, some not too deep, but also a lot of good comments on the sessions here in Hampton. Additionally, this is the first national conference that we’ve done that includes webinars so that people in other locations can live vicariously, and presenters can remain in their home locations yet still contribute to our professional development. Sure, it hasn’t been perfect, but we’ve gotten good feedback for a lot of the content, and the technology and our user skills will increase over time.

Social Media and remote connections aside, there’s nothing like having the opportunity to network with colleagues, meet new and exciting people, see some of the up and comers and incredibly talented people that we share professional interests with in person. It is truly one of the weeks that I look forward to annually, and if you haven’t come to a national (or regional) workshop, what’s stopping you? NAI will have one somewhat near you in the rotation, but frankly I think it’s worth it to fly across the country, regardless of location. I get to learn, share some things that I know, but mostly I see close friends that I love, even if I only see them annually, and I get energized and feel smarter by being in the same room with some of the genuine giants of Interpretation.

This year, social media is acting both as a remote connection to the workshop, but also helping people who are here network and share tidbits of goodness that they are hearing in sessions, except for Lynda Doucette, who may be the last person in the United States who refuses to use a cell phone for some reason. But wait! Even Lynda has a twitter account, so she can’t be all bad. Just don’t ask me about how we ended up at the wrong restaurant 20 minutes away from where we intended to go…

I think that the only problem with documenting the workshop is that while we’re tweeting or facebooking, we may lose some details of what we’re listening to, but I’m frankly heartened to see the proliferation of netbooks, tablets and smartphones. Almost universally, people are sharing information rather than playing Farmville or something like that.

As I keep saying, social media is one of the tools that interpreters can use to communicate with our audiences, and this includes our internal audience– our fellow interpreters and managers, and hopefully more than a few people back home. A few of us are even collaborating on a custom Google map of the conference area. You can see it at http://goo.gl/maps/wSPuV and if you have a smartphone, you can even download it to your home screen and use it interactively. Cool!

It’s a bit of an experiment, and I suspect that it’s not quite ripe for this year, but we continue to move forward, looking for ways to communicate, to enlighten, to document, and look for ways to involve you with the national workshop, but to find ways to continue to relate to our visitors and remain relevant.

If you’re here in Hampton, I’m delighted to share some time with you! If you’re not, I hope that you can interact with us virtually, and I hope that you can join us in Reno for 2013 or (I think) Denver for 2014 and so on.

The national workshop is an extraordinary event for our weird, specialized profession, and I just can’t explain how important it is to me, and should be for you, so I guess I’ll stop now and get some sleep.

I think I just made my Wednesday deadline for our Mountain and Pacific and Hawaiian audience. Whew!

Finding Your Way With Google Map Maker

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I’m a guy who really loves maps. I guess this is a symptom of being a visual person, and it reminds me of one of my favorite jokes, about not getting a job as a cartographer in Arizona because I had no sense of Yuma. Still, maps and understanding of landforms are important to many interpreters. Human culture, emigration, development, agriculture, and on and on and on are all dictated by topography. The routes we travel on today in many cases are defined by what people did hundreds or thousands of years ago. Maps, whether planimetric, topographic or “artfully” constructed, help us understand nature, humanity, geology, botany, agriculture, and the evolution of our plant and many species of life.

I’m not a cartographer of course, certainly not in the formal sense. I have drawn a few maps, though, and I’ve plotted GPS waypoints and I’ve downloaded survey data onto basemaps, spent more time dreaming with Google Earth than any one person should be allowed to do, and I stumbled my way through a GIS course but still can’t use ArcView very well. I keep thinking that I would if I could, but probably not. Maybe I’m a wannabe cartographer.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve historically been frustrated with Google maps, though for my money, they’re better than the other alternatives. I get frustrated with them because, for all of their strengths, they’re still full of crap. Some of this is intentional, to trap companies or individuals who may steal or reverse engineer their map data. Google (and Bing and Yahoo and others) introduce intentional errors into their maps. In the trade, these are referred to as “trap streets.” Wikipedia has a generic article about this at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trap_street . Other errors are based on old data, incomplete source information, and things like that.

 

A satellite view of the South Auburn (California) area for illustration only

Hmmm. How many errors can I find in my neighborhood, that is, outside of my noisy neighbor?

View Larger Map

But I digress. If you’re tired of looking at Google maps of your park or site and grinding teeth over the errors, you can now fix them. It’s little known, but you can now edit Google maps!

www.google.com/mapmaker is a new site to me, but it’s been around since 2008. Unlike my own Google maps, which allow me to put placemarks, routes and descriptions on maps that I can then post or send to people, mapmaker allows users to modify the data on maps that everyone will see. This is yet another type of crowdsourcing, or as Paul might think of it, having too many players on the field. In one sense, I can ensure that things I care about are accurately reflected, but in another sense, why isn’t Google paying me to fix their errors or stuff that they’re just too lazy to do right the first time? Oh Google! You let me ask you the most ridiculous questions many times each day in my quest for knowledge and entertainment! I suppose that the least I can do is give something back! So much for my rationalization.

Basically, when you go to the mapmaker site, you can find and choose a feature and submit your changes. Some of this is form based, some are radio buttons, and there is an opportunity to write an explanation or justification. Sounds pretty easy, but it’s not as intuitive as I’d like. Maybe that’s again because I’m a visually oriented person and I want to see the changes immediately. Fortunately or unfortunately, Google doesn’t work that way. Changes are moderated, and what Google calls “experienced users” review changes before they go live. The timeframes for changes to be effective can vary quite a bit. Also, the sequencing for making changes/edits can be a little confusing. When I select a placemark or icon to edit, it’s sometimes not obvious to me what I need to do to create a change or delete a duplicate landmark (and boy are there lots of duplicates in the area I’m working on right now!) The good thing, however, is that you can become a reviewer, which I’ve done. Boy, I just can’t wait to get me the power to create and/or delete features from the earth! Oh wait? my reviews are then reviewed? Oh man…..

If you’ve stuck with me this far, GOOD FOR YOU, but what does this all mean and why should you care? I hoped that we wouldn’t come to this question; you should intrinsically care. Those of us who are interpreters are, I hope, interested in everything that goes on around us, we’re interested in showing, telling and helping people learn about the world around them, and we’re interested in accuracy. Sure, c’mon, admit it! Don’t you feel better now?

So go on, take a look at Google mapmaker. You can dip your toes in, or you can jump headfirst and share even more of your knowledge than you did previously, and perhaps, just perhaps, you’ll remove one of those intentional map errors that caused me to end up on what seemed like a one-way dead-end street in Los Angeles a few years ago.