About Me

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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Is Surface more than superficial?

Now this looks like it has potential for the MoL's redevelopment
project, now underway and scheduled to open in '09.

Coverage all round the web on this of course (though it's a pretty heavy
news time with announcements from all sorts at Where 2.0, Ingite and
Basically Surface is a touch-screen table, but with multi-touch ability.
You can not only drag stuff around but use two fingers or other tools to
perform other gestures(!), stretch images, write and draw etc. It
recognises things placed onto it and has proximity detection so you can,
for example, put a bluetooth phone or camera onto it and it will show
the photos on there. Video here:

Supposedly the table is around the $10,000 mark, and if we come up with
appropriate ideas for its use in the Capital City gallery it's surely a
reasonable figure. There's obviously a nice user generated content
possibility and in any case it's nice to get away from keyboards and
mice, but Sufrace seems to add quite a lot to the basic touch screen
functionality. I'm assuming Silverlight is the platform.

Can't really put an intelligent sustainability slant on it at the moment
beyond the obvious. But in short, it's every bit as cool for museums as
for hotels and phone shops!

Google's stab at the online/offline thing

To join the various announcements from Adobe, MS, Dojo et al, here is Google Gears, a browser plugin and API (well, I believe 3 APIs) to enable online applications to work offline too. They are apparently working with Adobe to integrate with Flex but we need to see how all this shakes out in terms of standardisation. The plugin and SDK are released under BSD.
As always, what's the relevance to my project? Well, for one thing there's the changing nature of applications - where they reside, who has power over them, what they can do, how we maintain our identity in them. There are questions, as I say, related to standards or the need for them, and what their absence can mean for the long-term viability of applications built without them. And of course it's pretty cool tech.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

SL Van Gogh Painting

From Beth's Blog: Step into a Van Gogh Painting in Second Life.
Looks quite fun, though I haven't signed up to SL so I dunno. I was thinking about how one might be able to use the power of that new application for extracting 3D data from 2D images to interpret paintings, and at least get a head start (and better textures) for something like this. No idea how that would happen, but it has to be said that though this van Gogh reconstruction is nice and potentially useful and instructive in itself, it's pretty far from the painting.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Crosspost: Watercolors of Second Life

3pointD writes of a book of watercolours of SL now for sale. If this was purhased by a museum, accessioned, and perhaps digital derivatives of it put online, maybe even stuck on someone's wall in SL (or There, or anywhere), the head starts to spin. Unless, that is, we give up ideas of real and virtual as a pain in the butt and just MOVE ON!
Just kidding. Still, it's another little mind-twister to chuck into the mix. Real, authentic, virtual, inauthentic, valuable, worthless, durable, ephemeral and so on.
Whether her paintings are any good is something else entirely, but who am I to talk? Luca did a better lighthouse than me last time we had a draw-off. He probably wasn't yet 4 then. And my pirates and dragons suck next to his, too.

Also on The Attic

Friday, May 18, 2007


Following on from the eRDF post, I also need to look into GRDDL. Some useful sources:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

eRDF - another way to semantic HTML for museums?

After posting some stuff the the microformats-discuss mailing list I had a fascinating off-list reply from Keith Alexander, suggesting that I look into eRDF (embeddable RDF) as an alternative to a new microformat (and not only because new ones seem never to get anywhere these days, and perhaps rightly so). The links he pointed at have really whetted my appetite. There are a couple of extra complications, at least from the point of view of keeping authoring as simple as possible (the need for link tags, for one), but it sorts out some of my concerns immediately and opens the "format" up to existing eRDF parsers. Perhaps if we were to come up with some recommended schemas and element sets for museum objects we could reach some sort of stability and with a little adaptation even the work I've already done on the Gathery might not be wasted, but as Keith pointed out, the data would also be available to Piggy Bank and more. Hmm, definitely one to pursue and I'm glad I exposed myself on the list, even if it does mean I drop the µƒ idea altogether.

More on eRDF: http://www.getsemantic.com/wiki/ERDF

Thursday, May 10, 2007


http://www.exhibitfiles.org/They're archiving the process of exhibit design. Given Jim Spadaccini's digital concerns I wonder if he'll turn his attention next to the process of digital media design for museums? Probably not, but there are overlapping concerns and I look forward to wandering through the new site. See also http://www.ideum.com/blog/2007/04/23/the-exhibitfiles-is-live/

Small new app?

Probable reuse of events RSS feed or perhaps more directly from the data access layer: a screen in the Museum of London foyer to show the day's forthcoming events. We have most of what's needed to do this at present but need to (a) tweak things to show just the (remainder of) the current day and (b) to resolve questions of how to make it look nice, given that people aren't attaching images to events in the database at present, though they can.

tRaining in my heart

[with apologies to the Pretty Things]
Lots of training over the last few days.
Less useful: "using display screen equipment"
More useful: generic research skills at Leicester. The odd useful tip on explioting Word better; PhD planning; APG upgrade.
More useful: project management at Corporation of London (or City of London Corporation or whatever it's called now). This was a good full-day thing, not formal PRINCE2 training (though it was briefly discussed) but more about good analysis, preparation and, well, management. It brought out some useful themes for my next paper (on "the institution") as well as some concrete issues to follow up with the Capital City digital media sub-project, when that really gets off the ground (well actually, before then).

Forthcoming project: Slavery

A project in the works for Museum in Docklands will involve mapping slavery-related sites around London. We had a conversation yesterday about how we might accomplish the content creation for this. There are complications relating to other parties contributing content, and possibly some UGC too, but essentially we decided it was worth pursuing the idea of authoring in XML (probably TEILite, actually) since the work I've done with the format previously gives a good foundation for developing the links between sections, outputting geoRSS or KML, building indexes and glossaries etc, which would not really be an option with regular MCMS templates. Will monitor how this develops as it may turn out that the benefits don't justify the extra me-time that will be required, but there's potential there.

Extensible, reusable, Impressionable

Ben from Surface Impression yesterday came in to install the new presentation authoring tool they have built us. Things went pretty smoothly (great bloke too), we sorted out a couple of wee PHP issues relating to the old version we still run and then it all seemed to work. It's a cool app, basically we have a couple of framework SWFs that draw together a load of smaller ones for different interactions - quizzes, fill-the-gaps, matching words and pictures, video etc. - into a single "presentation" for use on the Learning Online site (or on whiteboards). Authoring is done in the same context via a collection of other SWFs and underneath it all XML is authored. We will upload the XML and collections of assets to the web server once it's all ready and pass into the framework SWF the path to the XML and hey presto. It's similar to but much more complex than other Flash stuff we've commissioned in the last couple of years and the authoring environment is cute. I'm really keen to get my teeth into the XML, actually, since I'd like to see how else we can use what is put out - a simple HTML version of a presentation should be a cinch, anyway, and it will also be easy to cut-n-paste or copy-and-edit existing presentations to create new ones.
So, we're not live with it yet but it's looking good.

Value of heritage sites

This series of workshops looks interesting, at least to keep an eye on (there's only one left anyway) as a locus of discussions on how to identify value in real-world heritage.

Fair referencing

A little bit of a dilemma. I did a lot of work over the last few weeks on a new section for my paper on definitions. I've greatly expanded and restructured a section on value, especially parts on reality and authenticity. Now I have come across a chapter by Evans, Mull and Poling in "Perspectives on object-centered learning in museums", and another by Frost in the same volume, which make a number of the same points that I had thought I'd been somewhat original in. In fact they cite some of the same sources as I'd already done. I suppose it just brings home how much we build on the work of others, that we have used the same sources and drawn similar conclusions. The dilemma is whether I should reference these Evans, Mull and Poling, and Frost, when in fact they were not the source of what I wrote (though they got there first). It's just pride, though, that makes me hesitate - after all, what they are really is useful citations in support of what I've written and it's not that important to lay claim for the original thought - especially when it turns out not to be so original!
So get on with it, cite them!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cross-posted comment: on real museums and digital value

Cross-posted comment to Holly Witchey's post on musematic (since it's what I had on my mind today anyway):

Hi Holly, you won’t remember me but we shared breakfast in Pasadena…. I do understand how you can sometimes get to feel like this. I don’t have much to add to your thoughts on communication breakdown – you’re right, communication takes both effective transmission and reception. Your remarks on the value of our whole digital enterprise, though, chimed very serendipitously with my own musings on the way to work this morning. I was thinking: some museums that hold a preponderance of “real” objects, others contain more in the way of dioramas, reconstructions, replicas, interactives and experiences; indeed some have nothing “real” at all. Does this lead them to have different attitudes to their digital holdings or place different value upon them? Despite the AAM’s Code of Ethics, not all museums (in the broad definition that the AAM also holds) have collections per se. In fact, the section you quote includes not just collections but “exhibition materials”, and maybe that’s where we can salve our consciences a little: exhibition materials could well include digital resources. In the end it’s true, most of the time in most cases it’s the collections that really count and they must take priority, and museums always have to balance, to choose, and they do. As well as going on building and maintaining collections they have to use them in all sorts of ways to get value now as well as in the future. That’s where we come in – only rarely are we creating works of art; mostly we’re making stuff that brings art, history, science, ideas to people. It would be foolish to spend too much on that, like it would be foolish to spend all the money on gallery refurbs and none on building and caring for collections, but still it’s valuable work. Occasionally we might even make something that could become digital heritage (i.e. a digital thing worth keeping) as opposed to digitized heritage, and in this time of flux and exciting experiments we are surely seeing some genuinely valuable bodies of knowledge and experience that perhaps we’ll want to “preserve for posterity”. I’m really interested to find out if and when our digital stuff is anywhere near as precious as our real stuff (it’s my research area, as it happens), but anyway don’t be too down! If people needed museums in the past, not just collections, then they need us now, in the same way

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Silverlight dawns

Silverlight, the plugin and surrounding technology for rich internet applications announced yesterday by Microsoft, is getting a lot of people very excited. There's a strong OS element to it, although the plugin itself isn't OS, and it supports a bunch of new languages in the Common Language Runtime (that's a good thing) including such OS faves as Python and Ruby (not PhP, I think). Nice to be able to use Visual Studio to develop these, and I presume that we'll start to see them supported in other .Net scenarios too, along with JavaScript and the regular .Net languages. By all accounts it is massively fast compared to unmanaged client-side code (JavaScript in AJAX, for example) and has a really nice interface - this is the Windows Presentation Framework (Avalon as was) in action. Now waiting for the applications to start appearing. I will be keeping an eye on this and Flex (the Adobe competitor, basically) to monitor the continuing merging of web and desktop.