Category Archives: Uncategorized

William Gedney Wants Me To Build A Darkroom

The initial thought I had for this blog post was to describe a slice of my day that revolved around the work of William Gedney.  I was going to spin a tale about being on the hunt for a light meter to take lux (luminance) readings used to help calibrate the capture environment of one of our scanners.  On my search for the light meter I bumped into the new exhibit of William Gedney’s  handmade books displayed in the Chappell Family Gallery in the Perkins Library.  I had digitized a number of these books a few months ago and enjoyed pretty much every image in the books.  One of the books on display was opened to a particular photograph.  To my surprise, I had just digitized a finished print of the same image that very morning while working on a larger project to digitize all of Gedney’s finished prints, proof prints, contact sheets and other material.  Once the project is complete (a year or so from now) I will have personally seen, handled and digitized over 20,000 of Gedney’s photographs. Whoa!  Would I be able to recognize Gedney images whenever one presented itself just like the book in the gallery?  Maybe.

Once the collection is digitized and published through Duke Digital Collections the whole world will be able to see this amazing body of work.  Instead of boring you with the details of that story I thought I would just leave you with a few images from the collection.  For me, many of Gedney’s photographs have a kinetic energy to them.  It seems as if I can almost feel the air.  My imagination may be working overtime to achieve this and the reality of what was happening when the photograph was taken may be wholly different but the fact is these photographs spin up my imagination and transport me to the moments he has captured.  These photographs inspire me to dust off my enlarger and set up a darkroom.

It may take some time to complete this particular project but there are other William Gedney related projects, materials and events available at Duke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopscotch Design Fest

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Hopscotch Design Festival, a 2-day precursor to the music event of the same name in Raleigh, NC. The Design Fest used a very wide tent in gathering speakers from the world of design — they included urban planners, architects, musicians, and writers, in addition to more typical designer/illustrator/interactive types. While I haven’t been to that many conferences, the ones I’ve attended have usually been heavy on the tech side, typically exemplified by a sea of glowing silver macbook pros. During the opening keynote, so far as I could see, I was the only one with a laptop. This crowd was heavy on the analog side (pens and moleskines). This ethos was reinforced by Austin Kleon’s presentation on essential tools for the analog desk. I wasn’t all that familiar with Kleon, but he was clearly a very skilled presenter and offered some interesting tips on maintaining creativity. I was particularly impressed with his newspaper poetry. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and will hopefully be able to attend again in the future.

Here are some of the speakers I particularly enjoyed:


JustinJustin LeBlanc

I don’t watch much TV. But one show I really enjoy, thanks to my wife, is Project Runway. My favorite contestant, by far, has been Justin LeBlanc. Not only did he come across as a genuinely wonderful person on the show, his designs were amazing. I especially appreciated how his work incorporated non-traditional materials and technology, like 3D printing. Which is all to say that I was super excited to seem him in person. He talked a lot about his creative process, showed off some projects he’d worked on in grad school [before he hit the big time], and also showed some newer work that he’ll debut on the runway soon. He stressed that his latest work is heavily influenced by living in North Carolina. He’s collaborated with local companies to procure materials, print fabrics, and more. The whole thing felt very positive to me.


SteveSteve Frykholm

While I had never heard of Steve Frykholm before, I was immediately impressed by him. He’s been a designer at the famed Herman Miller company for 45 years. He’s clearly seen a lot of things change in the design industry over that time, so the perspective he shared was really insightful. He told an interesting story of the first Herman Miller catalog that was designed by George Nelson in 1952. The original proposal was for a highly stylized, photo-heavy book printed on nice paper — a sharp contrast to the text-heavy catalogs of the day. The top brass shot it down, saying it would be incredibly expensive to produce, and asked the team to come up with a new and more affordable version. The next iteration kept the same design, but added a bound cover and a $3 price tag. No one had ever charged for a product catalog, so this was a bold step. However, the bosses eventually relented and the catalog went on to be a huge success. The next year their competitors were charging $5 for their catalogs. [As an aside, an original copy of the catalog is available at the UNC Art Library.] His point in sharing this story was that sometimes you need to be the first at something — it’s OK to take bold steps and try something new. It won’t always work out, but sometimes it does. He also shared a bit about his creative process and how design work happens at Herman Miller. Towards the end of his time he talked about a series of posters he designed for the company’s annual Spring Picnic. These posters were recently added to the permanent collection at MoMA. I could have listened to him talk for much longer. He’s truly an inspiring individual.


CheetieCheetie Kumar

I first encountered Cheetie Kumar as the lead guitarist for her band, Birds of Avalon. I just thought she was a great musician. Then I learned she was also a recording engineer/producer, an entrepreneur, a chef and restaurateur, a designer, and generally an awesome person. So, I was excited to attend her talk. She came across to me as very humble, but she was also very inspiring. She talked about how she first settled in Raleigh and how she and her band mates / business partners have been dedicated to making it a better place ever since. She explained that they would be out on the road for months at a time then come back home only for a short time, almost like visiting, and with this fresh perspective they were able to find new and exciting things to love about the city that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise. She also highlighted the design features she came up with in creating the space for her restaurant — wood floors salvaged from a basketball court, an awning made from leftover construction material, a penny-covered floor in the bathroom, and a wall of paintings towards the back of the space. She mentioned multiple times how much hard work friends and others contributed to making it all a success. It’s literally amazing how much she juggles in her day to day life. She also said she doesn’t get a lot of sleep.


GrahamGraham Roberts

I was familiar with Graham Roberts’ work without realizing it. He’s worked on some truly amazing projects at the New York Times, such as Inside the Quartet, Music and Gesture, and Skrillex, Diplo, and Bieber make a hit. During his talk he essentially walked us through the process of working on these projects. There were way more people involved in building these things than I would have guessed. For the Kronos Quartet piece, they captured real-time 3-D data using multiple microsoft connect cameras. He then had to visualize what ended up being a staggering amount of data. The end result is beautiful; abstract, but graceful in capturing the essence of their performance movements. He also talked about what it’s like working at the Times and how he approaches his work from the perspective of a journalist, not just as a designer/animator/3D artist. In short, his work is stunning. And while it’s inspiring, in a way it’s also hard to imagine being able to create something so amazing. But I’m hopeful with the richness and diversity of our collections at DUL that we’ll continue to make our own inspiring work.

The Elastic Ruler: Measuring Scholarly Use of Digital Collections

Our Digital Collections program aspires to build “distinctive digital collections that provide access to Duke’s unique library and archival materials for teaching, learning, and research at Duke and worldwide.” Those are our primary stated objectives, though the reach and the value of putting collections online extends far beyond.  For instance, these uses might not qualify as scholarly, but we celebrate them all the same:

Digital Collections items pinned on Pinterest
Digital Collections items pinned on Pinterest

Regardless of how much value we assign to different kinds of uses, determining the impact of our work is a hard problem to solve. There are no simple instruments to measure our outcomes, and the measurements we do take can at times feel uncertain, as if taken of a moving object with a wildly elastic ruler.   Some helpful resources are out there, of both theoretical and practical varieties, but focusing on what matters most remains a challenge.

Back to our mission: how much are our collections actually used for the scholarly purposes we trumpet–teaching, learning, and research–versus other more casual uses? How do we distinguish these uses within the data we collect? Getting clearer answers could help us in several areas. First, what should we even digitize? What compelling stories of user engagement could be told to illustrate the value of the collections? How might we drum up more interest in the collections within scholarly communities?

Some of my Duke colleagues and I began exploring these questions this year in depth. We’ll have much more to report later, but already our work has uncovered some bits of interest to share. And, of course, we’ve unearthed more questions than answers.

Analytics

Like many places, we use a service called Google Analytics to track how much our collections are accessed. We use analytics to understand what kinds of things that we digitize resonate with users online, and to to help us make informed improvements to the website. Google doesn’t track any personally identifiable data (thankfully); data is aggregated to a degree where privacy is protected yet site owners can still see generally where their traffic comes from.

For example, we know that on average1, our site visitors view just over 5 pages/visit, and stay for about 3.5 minutes. 60.3% of visitors bounce (that is, leave after seeing only one page). Mobile devices account for 20.1% of traffic. Over 26% of visits come from outside the U.S.  The most common way a visit originates is via search engine (37.5%), and social media traffic—especially from Facebook—is quite significant (15.7% of visits). The data is vast; the opportunities for slicing and dicing it seem infinite. And we’ll forever grapple with how best to track, interpret,  report, and respond to the things that are most meaningful to us.

Scholarly Traffic

There are two bits of Analytics data that can provide us with clues about our collections’ use in scholarly environments:

  1. Traffic on scholarly networks (a filtered view of ISPs)
  2. Referrals from scholarly pages (a filtered view of Referrer paths)

Tracking these figures (however imperfect) could help us get a better sense for the trends in the tenor of our audience, and help us set goals for any outreach efforts we undertake.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.41.52 PM

Traffic on Scholarly Networks

One key clue for scholarly use is the name of visitors’ Internet Service Provider (ISP). For example, a visit from somewhere on Duke’s campus has an ISP “duke university,” a NYC public school “new york city public schools,” and McGill University (in Canada) “mcgill university.” Of course, plenty of scholarly work gets done off-campus (where an ISP is likely Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, etc.), and not all network traffic that happens on a campus is actually for scholarly purposes. So there are the usual caveats about signal and noise within the data.

Alas, we know that over the past calendar year1, we had:

  • 11.7% of our visits (“sessions”) from visitors on a scholarly network (as defined in our filters by: ISP name has universit*, college*, or school* in it)2.
  • 74,724 visits via scholarly networks
  • 4,121 unique scholarly network ISPs

Referrals from Course Websites or Online Syllabi on .Edu Sites

Are our collections used for teaching and learning? How much can we tell simply through web analytics?

A referral happens when someone gets to our site by following a link from another site.  In our data, we can see the full web address of any referring pages. But can we infer from a site URL whether a site was a course website or an online syllabus–pages that’d link to our site for the express purpose of teaching?  We can try.

In the past year, referrals filtered by an expression3 to isolate course sites and syllabi on .Edu sites

  • 0.18% of total visits
  • 1,167 visits
  • 68 unique sites (domains)

Or, if we remove the .Edu restriction2

  • 1.21% of total visits
  • 7,718 visits
  • 221 unique sites (domains)

It’s hard to confidently assert that this data is accurate, and indeed many of the pages can’t be verified because they’re only accessible to the students in those classes. But regardless, a look at the data through this lens does occasionally help discover real uses for actual courses and/or generate leads for contacting instructors about the ways they’ve used the collections in their curriculum.

Other Methods

We know web analytics are just a single tool in a giant toolbox for determining how much our collections are contributing to teaching, learning, and research. One technique we’ve tried is using Google Scholar to track citations of collections, then logged and tagged those citations using Delicious. For instance, here are 70 scholarly citations for our Ad*Access collection. Among the citations are 30 articles, 19 books, and 10 theses. 26 sources cited something from the collection as a primary source.  This technique is powerful and illuminates some interesting uses. But it unfortunately takes a lot of time to do well.

We’ve also recently launched a survey on our website that gathers some basic information from visitors about how they’re using the collections. And we have done some outreach with instructors at Duke and beyond. Stay tuned for much more as we explore the data. In the meantime, we would love to hear from others in the field how you approach answering these very same questions.

SLA3935


 

Notes

  1. Data from July 1, 2014 – June 26, 2015.
  2. We had first looked at isolating scholarly networks by narrowing to ISP network domains ending in “.edu” but upon digging further, there are two reasons why the ISP name provides better data. 1) .EDUs are only granted to accredited postsecondary institutions in the U.S., so visits from international universities or middle/high schools wouldn’t count. 2) A full 24% of all our visits have unknowable ISP network domains: “(not set)” or “unknown.unknown,” whereas only 6.3% of visits have unknown ISP names.
  3. Full referrer path: blackboard|sakai|moodle|webct|schoology|^bb|learn|course|isites|syllabus|classroom|^class.|/class/|^classes.|/~CLASS/

…and We’re Putting it on Wax (The Frank Clyde Brown Collection)

My last several posts have focused on endangered–some would say obsolete–audio formats: open reel tape, compact cassette, DAT, and Minidisc. In this installment, we travel back to the dawn of recorded sound and the 20th Century to investigate some of the earliest commercial recording media. Unlike the formats above, which operate on post-WW2 magnetic and optical technology, these systems carved sound waves into stone (or, more accurately, wax) behind strictly acousto-mechanical principles.

Thomas Edison is credited as inventing the first phonograph (“soundwriter”) on July 18, 1877. It consisted of tinfoil wrapped around a hand-cranked metal cylinder. Sound waves would be funneled through a horn, causing a stylus to vibrate and indent a groove around the outside of the cylinder. The cylinder could be played by reversing the procedure: By retracing the groove with the stylus, the sound would be amplified back through the horn and heard as a rough approximation of the original sound.

cylinder2

Alexander Graham Bell quickly improved the innovation by introducing wax as a superior material for the cylinders and using a needle to scratch the sound waves into their surface. He called his device the “Graphophone”. By 1888, Edison had also adopted wax as the preferred medium for recorded cylinders and a patent-sharing agreement was signed. In 1889, the wax cylinder because the first commercially marketed audio medium.

cylinder1

Initially, the cylinders were installed in the ancestors of jukeboxes in public places. Drop a coin into the slot, and the machine would magically dispense a song, monologue, or comedy routine. The technology was soon adapted for home use. Consumers could purchase prerecorded cylinders to play on their machines. Perhaps more amazingly, they could buy a home recording attachment and cut their own content onto the wax.

[PAUSE—shift from PLAY to RECORD mode]

nc_folklore

Biographical and Historical Note

Frank Clyde Brown (1870-1943) served as a Professor of English at Trinity College, Duke University, from 1909 until his death. A native of Virginia, he received his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1908. While at Duke University he served in many capacities, including being chairman of his department, University Marshal, and Comptroller of the University during its initial construction. These aspects of his life are chronicled in his papers held by the Duke University Archives.

This collection of materials, however, is concerned with activities to which he devoted equal time and energy, the organization of the North Carolina Folklore Society in 1913 and his personal effort to gather and record the nuances and culture of “folk” of North Carolina and its near neighbors, which occupied him from 1912 until his death. Under the impetus of a 1912 mailing from John A. Lomax, then President of the American Folklore Society, Brown as well as other faculty members and other citizens in North Carolina, became interested in folklore and organized the North Carolina Folklore Society in 1913, with Brown as secretary-treasurer. As secretary-treasurer of this organization from its inception until his death, he provided the organizational impetus behind the Society. Through his course in folklore at Duke, he also sent class after class out to gather the folklore of their locales, both during their studies and afterward. And virtually every summer he could be found in the most remote parts of the state, with notebook and recorder — first a dictaphone employing cylinders, and later a machine employing aluminum discs provided for his use by the University. The result, by 1943, was a collection of about 38,000 written notes on lore, 650 musical scores, 1400 songs vocally recorded, and numerous magazine articles, student theses, books, lists, and other items related to this study. The material originated in at least 84 North Carolina counties, with about 5 percent original in 20 other states and Canada, and came from the efforts of 650 other contributors besides Brown himself.

[STOP]

cylinder4

cylinder5

[POWER OFF]

Thanks to our Audiovisual Archivist, Craig Breaden, for the excellent photos and unused title suggestion (“The Needle and the Damage Done”). Future posts will include updates on work with the Frank C. Brown Collection, other audio collections at Duke, and the history of sound recording and reproduction.

 

Back to the ’80s – Duke Chronicle Style

Ah, the 1980s…a decade of perms, the Walkman, Jelly shoes, and Ziggy Stardust.  It was a time of fashion statements I personally look back on in wonderment.

Personal Computer Ad, 1980
Personal Computer Ad, 1980

Fashionable leotards, shoulder pads, and stirrup pants were all the rage.  And can we say parachute pants?  Thanks, MC Hammer.  If you’re craving a blast from the past, we’ve got you covered.  The digitized 1980s Duke Chronicle has arrived!  Now you can relive that decade of Hill Street Blues and Magnum P.I. from your own personal computer (hopefully,you’re not still using one of these models!).

As Duke University’s student-run newspaper for over 100 years, the Duke Chronicle is a window into the history of the university, North Carolina, and the world.  It may even be a window into your own past if you had the privilege of living through those totally rad years.  If you didn’t get the chance to live it firsthand, you may find great joy in experiencing it vicariously through the pages of the Chronicle, or at least find irony in the fact that ’80s fashion has made a comeback.

Sony Private Stereo Ad, February 12, 1980
Sony Private Stereo Ad, February 12, 1980

 

Here at Duke, the 1980s was the decade that welcomed Coach Krzyzewski to the basketball team, and made it (almost) all the way to the championship in 1986.  In 1980, the Chronicle celebrated its 75th year of bringing news to campus.  It was also a time of expansion, as Duke Hospital North was constructed in 1980 and the Washington Duke Inn followed in 1988.  President Reagan visited campus, Desmond Tutu spoke at Duke Chapel, and Princess Grace Kelly entertained with poetry at Page Auditorium almost two years to the day before she died.

 

The 1980s also saw racial unrest in North Carolina, and The Duke Chronicle headlines reflected these tense feelings.  Many articles illustrate a reawakened civil rights movement.  From a call to increase the number of black professors at Duke, to the marching of KKK members down the streets of Greensboro, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolinians found themselves in a continued struggle for equality.  Students and faculty at Duke were no exception.  Unfortunately, these thirty-year-old Chronicle headlines would seem right at home in today’s newspapers.

 

The 1980s Chronicle issues can inform us of fashion and pop culture, whether we look back at it with distaste or fondness.  But it also enlightens us to the broader social atmosphere that defined the 1980s.   It was a time of change and self-expression, and I invite you to explore the pages of the Duke Chronicle to learn more.

Fashion Ad, May 10, 1984
Fashion Ad, May 10, 1984

 

The addition of the 1980s issues to the online Duke Chronicle digital collection is part of an ongoing effort to provide digital access to all Chronicle issues from 1905 to 1989.  The next decades to look forward to are the 1970s and 1950s.  Also, stay tuned to Bitstreams for a more in-depth exploration of the newspaper digitization process.  You can learn how we turn the pages of the Duke Chronicle into online digital gold.  At least, that’s what I like to think we do here at the Digital Production Center.  Until then, transport yourself back to the 1980s, Duke Chronicle style (no DeLorean or flux capacitor necessary).

The Value of Metadata in Digital Collections Projects

Before you let your eyes glaze over at the thought of metadata, let me familiarize you with the term and its invaluable role in the creation of the library’s online Digital Collections.  Yes, metadata is a rather jargony word librarians and archivists find themselves using frequently in the digital age, but it’s not as complex as you may think.  In the most simplistic terms, the Society of American Archivists defines metadata as “data about data.”  Okay, what does that mean?  According to the good ol’ trusty Oxford English Dictionary, it is “data that describes and gives information about other data.”  In other words, if you have a digitized photographic image (data), you will also have words to describe the image (metadata).

Better yet, think of it this way.  If that image were of a large family gathering and grandma lovingly wrote the date and names of all the people on the backside, that is basic metadata.  Without that information those people and the image would suddenly have less meaning, especially if you have no clue who those faces are in that family photo.  It is the same with digital projects.  Without descriptive metadata, the items we digitize would hold less meaning and prove less valuable for researchers, or at least be less searchable.  The better and more thorough the metadata, the more it promotes discovery in search engines.  (Check out the metadata from this Cornett family photo from the William Gedney collection.)

The term metadata was first used in the late 1960s in computer programming language.  With the advent of computing technology and the overabundance of digital data, metadata became a key element to help describe and retrieve information in an automated way.  The use of the word metadata in literature over the last 45 years shows a steeper increase from 1995 to 2005, which makes sense.  The term became used more and more as technology grew more widespread.  This is reflected in the graph below from Google’s Ngram Viewer, which scours over 5 million Google Books to track the usage of words and phrases over time.

metadatangram_blog
Google Ngram Viewer for “metadata”

Because of its link with computer technology, metadata is widely used in a variety of fields that range from computer science to the music industry.  Even your music playlist is full of descriptive metadata that relates to each song, like the artist, album, song title, and length of audio recording.  So, libraries and archives are not alone in their reliance on metadata.  Generating metadata is an invaluable step in the process of preserving and documenting the library’s unique collections.  It is especially important here at the Digital Production Center (DPC) where the digitization of these collections happens.  To better understand exactly how important a role metadata plays in our job, let’s walk through the metadata life cycle of one of our digital projects, the Duke Chapel Recordings.

The Chapel Recordings project consists of digitizing over 1,000 cassette and VHS tapes of sermons and over 1,300 written sermons that were given at the Duke Chapel from the 1950s to 2000s.  These recordings and sermons will be added to the existing Duke Chapel Recordings collection online.  Funded by a grant from the Lilly Foundation, this digital collection will be a great asset to Duke’s Divinity School and those interested in hermeneutics worldwide.

Before the scanners and audio capture devices are even warmed up at the DPC, preliminary metadata is collected from the analog archival material.  Depending on the project, this metadata is created either by an outside collaborator or in-house at the DPC.  For example, the Duke Chronicle metadata is created in-house by pulling data from each issue, like the date, volume, and issue number.  I am currently working on compiling the pre-digitization metadata for the 1950s Chronicle, and the spreadsheet looks like this:

1950sChronicle_blog
1950s Duke Chronicle preliminary metadata

As for the Chapel Recordings project, the DPC received an inventory from the University Archives in the form of an Excel spreadsheet.  This inventory contained the preliminary metadata already generated for the collection, which is also used in Rubenstein Library‘s online collection guide.

inventorymetadata_blog
Chapel Recordings inventory metadata

The University Archives also supplied the DPC with an inventory of the sermon transcripts containing basic metadata compiled by a student.

inventorysermons_blog
Duke Chapel Records sermon metadata

Here at the DPC, we convert this preliminary metadata into a digitization guide, which is a fancy term for yet another Excel spreadsheet.  Each digital project receives its own digitization guide (we like to call them digguides) which keeps all the valuable information for each item in one place.  It acts as a central location for data entry, but also as a reference guide for the digitization process.  Depending on the format of the material being digitized (image, audio, video, etc.), the digitization guide will need different categories.  We then add these new categories as columns in the original inventory spreadsheet and it becomes a working document where we plug in our own metadata generated in the digitization process.   For the Chapel Recordings audio and video, the metadata created looks like this:

digitizationmetadata_blog
Chapel Recordings digitization metadata

Once we have digitized the items, we then run the recordings through several rounds of quality control.  This generates even more metadata which is, again, added to the digitization guide.  As the Chapel Recordings have not gone through quality control yet, here is a look at the quality control data for the 1980s Duke Chronicle:

qcmetadata_blog
1980s Duke Chronicle quality control metadata

Once the digitization and quality control is completed, the DPC then sends the digitization guide filled with metadata to the metadata archivist, Noah Huffman.  Noah then makes further adds, edits, and deletes to match the spreadsheet metadata fields to fields accepted by the management software, CONTENTdm.  During the process of ingesting all the content into the software, CONTENTdm links the digitized items to their corresponding metadata from the Excel spreadsheet.  This is in preparation for placing the material online. For even more metadata adventures, see Noah’s most recent Bitstreams post.

In the final stage of the process, the compiled metadata and digitized items are published online at our Digital Collections website.  You, the researcher, history fanatic, or Sunday browser, see the results of all this work on the page of each digital item online.  This metadata is what makes your search results productive, and if we’ve done our job right, the digitized items will be easily discovered.  The Chapel Recordings metadata looks like this once published online:

onlinemetadata_blog
Chapel Recordings metadata as viewed online

Further down the road, the Duke Divinity School wishes to enhance the current metadata to provide keyword searches within the Chapel Recordings audio and video.  This will allow researchers to jump to specific sections of the recordings and find the exact content they are looking for.  The additional metadata will greatly improve the user experience by making it easier to search within the content of the recordings, and will add value to the digital collection.

On this journey through the metadata life cycle, I hope you have been convinced that metadata is a key element in the digitization process.  From preliminary inventories, to digitization and quality control, to uploading the material online, metadata has a big job to do.  At each step, it forms the link between a digitized item and how we know what that item is.  The life cycle of metadata in our digital projects at the DPC is sometimes long and tiring.  But, each stage of the process  creates and utilizes the metadata in varied and important ways.  Ultimately, all this arduous work pays off when a researcher in our digital collections hits gold.

When MiniDiscs Recorded the Earth

My last several posts have focused on endangered audio formats: open reel tape, compact cassette, and DAT. Each of these media types boasted some advantages over their predecessors, as well as disadvantages that ultimately led to them falling out of favor with most consumers. Whether entirely relegated to our growing tech graveyard or moving into niche and specialty markets, each of the above formats has seen its brightest days and now slowly fades into extinction.

This week, we turn to the MiniDisc, a strange species that arose from Sony Electronics in 1992 and was already well on its way to being no more than a forgotten layer in the technological record by the time its production was discontinued in 2013.

IMG_1783

The MiniDisc was a magneto-optical disc-based system that offered 74 minutes of high-quality digital audio per disc (up to 320 minutes in long-play mode). It utilized a psychoacoustic lossy compression scheme (known as ATRAC) that allowed for significant data compression with little perceptible effect on audio fidelity. This meant you could record near perfect digital copies of CDs, tapes, or records—a revolutionary feat before the rise of writable CDs and hard disc recording. The minidisc platform was also popular in broadcasting and field recording. It was extremely light and portable, had excellent battery life, and possessed a number of sophisticated file editing and naming functions.

Despite these advantages, the format never grabbed a strong foothold in the market for several reasons. The players were expensive, retailing at $750 on launch in December 1992. Even the smaller portable Minidisc “Walkman” never dropped into the low consumer price range.  As a result, relatively few music albums were commercially released on the format. Once affordable CD-Rs and then mp3 players came onto the scene, the Minidisc was all but obsolete without ever truly breaking through to the mainstream.

IMG_1787

I recently unearthed a box containing my first and only Minidisc player, probably purchased used on eBay sometime in the early 2000’s. It filled several needs for me: a field recorder (for capturing ambient sound to be used in audio art and music), a playback device for environmental sounds and backing tracks in performance situations, and a “Walkman” that was smaller, held more music, and skipped less than my clunky portable CD player.

While it was long ago superceded by other electronic tools in my kit, the gaudy metallic yellow still evokes nostalgia. I remember the house I lived in at the time, walks to town with headphones on, excursions into the woods to record birds and creeks and escape the omnipresent hum of traffic and the electrical grid. The handwritten labels on the discs provide clues to personal interests and obsessions of the time: “Circuit Bends,” “Recess – Musique Concrete Master,” “Field Recordings 2/28/04,” “PIL – Second Edition, Keith Hudson – Pick A Dub, Sonic Youth – Sister, Velvet Underground – White Light White Heat.” The sounds and voices of family, friends, and creative collaborators populate these discs as they inhabit the recesses of my memory.

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While some may look at old technology as supplanted and obsolete, I refrain from this kind of Darwinism. The current renaissance of the supposedly extinct vinyl LP has demonstrated that markets and tastes change, and that ancient audio formats can be resurrected and have vital second lives. Opto-magnetic ghosts still walk the earth, and I hear them calling. I’m keeping my Minidisc player.

Man to Fight Computers!

1965 Engineers Show Image_DukEngineer
Duke Engineers Show in March 1965, DukEngineers

Fifty years ago this week, Duke students faced off with computers in model car races and tic-tac-toe matches in the annual Engineers’ Show.  In stark contrast to the up-and-coming computers, a Duke Chronicle article dubbed these human competitors as old-fashioned and obsolete.  Five decades later, although we humans haven’t completely lost our foothold to computers, they have become a much bigger part of our daily lives than in 1965.  Yes, there are those of you out there who fear the imminent robot coup is near, but we mostly have found a way to live alongside this technology we have created.  Perhaps we could call it a peaceful coexistence.

 

Zeutschel Image
Zeutschel Overhead Scanner

At least, that’s how I would describe our relationship to technology here at the Digital Production Center (DPC) where I began my internship six weeks ago.  We may not have the entertaining gadgets of the Engineers’ Show, like a mechanical swimming shark or mechanical monkey climbing a pole, but we do have exciting high-tech scanners like the Zeutschel, which made such instant internet access to articles like “Man To Fight Computers” possible.  The university’s student newspaper has been digitized from fall 1959 to spring 1970, and it is an ongoing project here at the DPC to digitize the rest of the collection spanning from 1905 to 1989.

 

My first scanning project has been the 1970s Duke Chronicle issues.  While standing at the Zeutschel as it works its digitization magic, it is fascinating to read the news headlines and learn university history through pages written by and for the student population.  The Duke Chronicle has been covering campus activities since 1905 when Duke was still Trinity College.  Over the years it has captured the evolution of student life as well as the world beyond East and West Campus.  The Chronicle is like a time capsule in its own right, each issue freezing and preserving moments in time for future generations to enjoy.  This is a wonderful resource for researchers, history nerds (like me!), and Duke enthusiasts alike, and I invite you to explore the digitized collection to see what interesting articles you may find.  And don’t forget to keep checking back with BitStreams to hear about the latest access to other decades of the Duke Chronicle.

 

1965 Engineers Show_DukEngineer
DukEngineer, The College of Engineering magazine, covered this particular Engineers’ Show in their April 1965 issue.

The year 1965 doesn’t seem that distant in time, yet in terms of technological advancement it might as well be eons away from where we are now.  Playing tic-tac-toe against a computer seems arcane compared to today’s game consoles and online gaming communities, but it does put things into perspective.  Since that March day in 1965, it is my hope that man and computer both have put down their boxing gloves.

Building a Kiosk for the Edge

Many months ago I learned that a new space, The Ruppert Commons for Research, Technology, and Collaboration, was going to be opening at the start of the calendar year. I was tasked with building an informational kiosk that would be seated in the entry area of the space. The schedule was a bit hectic and we ended up pruning some of the desired features, but in the end I think our first iteration has been working well. So, I wanted to share the steps I took to build it.

Setting Requirements

I first met with the Edge team at the end of August 2014. They had an initial ‘wish list’ of features that they wanted to be included in the kiosk. We went through the list and talked about the feasibility of those items, and tried to rank their importance. Our final features list looked something like this:

Primary Features:

  • Events list (both public and private events in the space)
  • Room reservation system
  • Interactive floor plan map
  • Staff lookup
  • Current Time
  • Contact information (chat, email, phone)

Secondary Features:

  • Display of computer availability
  • Ability to report printing / scanning problems
  • Book locations
  • Scheduleable content on ‘home’ screen

Our deadline was the soft opening date of the space at the start of the new year, but with the approaching holidays (and other projects competing for time) this was going to be a pretty fast turn around. My goal was to have a functional prototype ready for feedback by mid October. I really didn’t start working on the UI side of things until early that month, so I ended up needing to kick that can down the road a few weeks, but that happens some times.

The Hardware

The Library had purchased two Dell 27″ XPS all-in-one touchscreen machines for the purpose of serving as an informational kiosk near the new/temporary main entrance of Perkins/Bostock. For various reasons, that project kept getting postponed. But with the desire to also have a kiosk in the Edge, we decided we could use one of the Dell machines for this purpose. The touch screen display is great —  very bright, reasonably accurate color reproduction, and responsive to touch inputs. It does pickup a lot of finger prints, but that’s sort of unavoidable with a glossy display. The machine seems to run a little bit hot and the fan is far from silent, but in the space you don’t notice it at all. My favorite aspect of this computer is the stand. It’s really fantastic — it’s super easy to adjust, but also very sturdy. You can position it in a variety of ways, depending on the space you’re using it in, and be confident that it won’t slip out of adjustment even under constant use. Various positions of Dell computer I think in general we’re a little wary of using consumer grade hardware in a 24/7 public environment, but for the 1.5 months it’s been deployed it seems to be holding up well enough.

The OS

The Dell XPS came from the factory with Windows 8. I was really curious about using Assigned Access Mode in the Windows 8.1, but the need to use a local (non-domain) account necessitated a clean install of 8.1, which sounds annoying, but that process is so fast and effortless, at least compared to days of Windows yore, that it wasn’t a huge deal. I eventually configured the system as desired — it auto-boots into the local account on startup and then fires up the assigned Windows app (and limits the machine only to that app).

I spent some time playing around with different approaches for a browser to use with assigned access. The goal was to have a browser that ran in a ‘kiosk’ mode in that there was no ability for the user to interact with anything outside of the intended kiosk UI — meaning, no browser chrome windows, bookmarks, etc. I also planned to use Microsoft’s Family Safety controls to limit access to URLs outside of the range of pages that would comprise the kiosk UI. I tried both Google Chrome and Microsoft IE 11 (which really is a good browser, despite pervasive IE hate), but I ended up having trouble with both of them in different ways. Eventually, I stumbled on to a free Windows Store app called KIOSK SP Browser. It does exactly what I want — it’s a simple, stripped down, full screen browser app. It also has some specific kiosk features (like timeout detection) but I’m only using it to load the kiosk homepage on startup.

The Backend

As several of the requirements necessitated data sources that live in the Drupal system that drives our main library site, I figured the path of least resistance would be to also build the kiosk interface in Drupal. Using the Delta module, I setup a version of our theme that stripped out most of the elements that we wouldn’t be using (header, footer, etc.) for the kiosk. I could then apply the delta to a small range of pages using the Context Module. The pages themselves are quite simple by and large. Screen shots of the pages in the Edge Kiosk

  • Events — I used a View to import an RSS feed from Yahoo Pipes (which combines events from our own Library system and the larger Duke system).
  • Reserve Spaces – this page loads in content from Springshare’s LibCal system using an iFrame.
  • Map — I drew a simplified map in Illustrator based architect’s floor plan , then saved it out as an SVG and added ID tags to the areas I wanted to make interactive.
  • Staff — this page loads in content from a google spreadsheet using a technique I outlined previously on Bitstreams.
  • Help — this page loads our LibraryH3LP Chat Widget and a Qualtrics email form.

The Frontend

When it comes time to design an interface, my first step is almost always to sketch on paper. For this project, I did some playing around and ended up settling on a circular motif for the main navigational interface. I based the color scheme and typography on a branding and style guide that was developed for the Edge. Edge Kiosk home page design Many years ago I used to turn my sketches into high fidelity mockups in photoshop or illustrator, but for the past couple of years I’ve tended to just dive right in and design on the fly with html/css. I created a special stylesheet just for this kiosk — it’s based on a fixed pixel layout as it is only ever intended to be used on that single Dell computer — and also assigned it to load using Delta. One important aspect of a kiosk is providing some hinting to users that they can indeed interact with it. In my experience, this is usually handled in the form of an attract loop.

I created a very simple motion design using my favorite NLE and rendered out an mp4 to use with the kiosk. I then setup the home page to show the video when it first loads and to hide it when the screen is touched. This helps the actual home page content appear to load very quickly (as it’s actually sitting beneath the video). I also included a script on every page to go to the homepage after a preset period on inactivity. It’s currently set to three minutes, but we may tweak that. Video stills of attract loop All in all I’m pleased with how things turned out. We’re planning to spend some time evaluating the usage of the kiosk over the next couple of months and then make any necessary tweaks to improve user experience. Swing by the Edge some time and try it out!