Telling History Digitally

Photo by Detroiturbex.cm

Photo by Detroiturbex.com

Recently I have taken an interest in using digital means to recount history. The thing that has taken me most is the use of old photos that are either cut into or superimposed over new photos. The results really give an insight into the history of our modern urban landscape.

The Mail Online has a fantastic example of how photos from World War 2 can be superimposed upon photos of modern France, the effect really makes you think. This article has one of the original photos, the new photo and then one upon the other. So we see soldiers battling through the rubble of the town of Cherbourg in 1944, followed by the same shot taken today and then the two merged.

The obviously new addition of the cycle paths and modern signs  in some way makes the photos even more dramatic, as it brings to life the reality of how we live today with the ghost of war ever present.

Photo taken from the Mail Online

Photo taken from the Mail Online

There are 11 fully merged photos to follow, and they all tell their own story.

Another site that offers a wealth of photos and an incredible history lesson is called Detroiturbex. The opening photo above is taken from their website.  As we might imagine the project involves documenting the history of Detroit, and features photos of the city throughout its history, with a large section of connected, re-made and superimposed photos that recount the rise and fall of one of Americas largest industrial cities.

To give you an idea of what has happened to this great city in recent history, in 1950 it had almost 2 million inhabitants, but today only a third of that population remains. This means that more than 80,000 buildings lay derelict. The city has been declared bankrupt so there is no money to maintain any of the structures, and the results are there for all to see.

Basketball taken from the website

Basketball taken from the website

This is a big site, but a look at the index will guide you through a fantastic collection of photos, with the Now and Then section offering the matched and superimposed images. It is well worth a half hour to browse them all though, another reality of the American dream.

Flickr has a group called Looking into the Past that contains hundreds of images similar to those described above, which leads me to believe that it must be quite an easy thing to do. They certainly present an interesting historical perspective upon everyday modern life.

A quick search will find you plenty of others, including old postcards held over the original locations, very effective and absolutely DIY for those of us who like the analogue approach to life.

Enter the Smartpen

I was an English teacher for many years in Italy, and every year I played a game with the students. In groups we had an hour to invent an incredible product, prepare publicity for it and act it out to the class.

I had a can of Happiness and the logo “Happiness, now available in cans”. Many of the inventions revolved around making your school life easier though, including the intelligent pen that could for example write the correct answers in the test or translate from one language to another.

Well girls from Liceo Secco Suardo your dreams have come true. You in fact saw the future. Roll out the Smartpen.

 

Learnstift's Smartpen

Learnstift’s Smartpen

The Learnstift Smartpen checks your spelling as you write. Incredible but true. Learnstift is a German Start up, and they are about to release their incredible product in English and German. It has 2 functions, one to help you write better that recognizes the form and shape of individual letters, and one that checks the spelling.

The pen has a tiny Linux computer inside that runs off a battery. It is fitted with a non optical motion sensor and a vibrating mechanism, so it can recognize the word you have written and if it is spelt wrong it will vibrate so you can try again.

It has wi-fi so you can connect to your phone or other hardware, and with a launch price of between $150 to $200 it is cheaper that paying me to come round to correct your homework.

Joking apart the producers hope the pen will become a valuable learning tool and of particular interest to dyslexic children. Although initially only in German and English as the project takes off more languages will be introduced.

Any of you who have learned a new language will understand how such a tool could be used in language learning and business communication, and as the pen can be made in ball point, fountain and even pencil versions I think there might be a fuchsia for it.

What do you think?

Augmented Reality Art

A couple of weeks ago I crossed Grand Island in New York State, a rather desolate place at this time of year near the border with Canada. I was interested in a virtual art installation involving augmented reality, and quite a find it was too.

It turns out that in In September 1825, Major Mordecai Noah founded a city state called Ararat on Grand Island, “a city of refuge for the Jews”. His idea was to create a Jewish homeland. Noah’s dream never came to fruition, until that is a group of academics and artists decided to create a virtual tour of how the city might look today had it been constructed.

Ararat Virtual Monument

Ararat Virtual Monument

The tour involves downloading an app into your smartphone, and travelling to specific areas on the island. When you look through the camera of the phone various structures appear in the view that are not present in reality. There is a copy of a memorial that was designed but has fallen into decay, a synagogue, school, a theme park and various other typical structures. The group also produced postcards, stamps and money, as well as other objects in everyday use in any nation state. There is in fact only one original artefact from that period surviving today, a cornerstone that tells the story of the city’s foundation.

People who would like to take the tour have to download the mobile app Layar, and aim their devices’ cameras at the landscape. The application uses geolocation software to superimpose virtual objects at precise GPS coordinates, enabling the public to see the objects integrated into the physical location as if they existed in the real world.

Money from Ararat

Money from Ararat

Then you just take the photo and the object appears as if in real life, with your friends next to it if you like. The Mapping Arrarat website explains everything, and hosts a short video that demonstrates the installation in practice. There are also lots of photos of the various structures that show people interacting with a virtual landscape.

Although the computer graphics aren’t entirely convincing I am sure they will very quickly improve and get to the point of looking absolutely real, very much in the way that games have developed in recent years. And an installation of this type looks like a fantastic educational tool to me. Objects can be placed on the landscape and presumably old photos and plans could be used to re-make places and events. Wouldn’t it be interesting to go the the Great fire of London, or walk through antique Rome and come back with a few shots to show the family?

Quality vs quantity – the blogging dilemma

When I write, I want to write quality articles; articles which interest, amaze and inspire. Mediocre content annoy me. If ever I write something which I consider of low quality, I never publish it – I will either review it or scrap it.

A Wordle of blogging wordsI want to make a difference in the world, be it a small or big difference (I would prefer big) I have to start on a personal scale. If I can improve your life by changing the way you think and feel (for the better), and enriching your knowledge and understanding, then I am doing my job.

I love reading Jonny’s posts every week, they always interest me and many have inspired me to make (usually small) changes in my life and have often caused me to write something myself. Jonny posts once a week, on a Thursday – with the odd exception. Would he be able to post such great content if he posted twice a week? What about three times? I don’t know.

I am not meaning to pick on Jonny, once a week is just great and very appreciated. One day Jonny will stop writing as often, and one day he will stop writing all together. I hope that day is a long way off, and by that time I have no doubt that we will have other writers writing the quality and quantity of content that he writes.

The same goes for me. I get a lot from blogging at the moment, I love the researching and crafting process that goes into making an article, and I also love the responses. But one day I shall probably stop too.

Think about your favourite TV show, how often does it air? Usually (with exceptions) the best shows/series take months to produce and don’t launch every day/week of the year.

Blogging is the same. I want us to post 6 great articles a week. Jonny gives us one of those posts. I am usually able to provide another, and we often get the third from another writer – like Steve, Ron, Alan or another writer. Usually we only post 4 or 5 articles a week, and that’s fine. I would like to post 6, but would rather post 4 quality articles than 6 mediocre ones.

Blogs that post less often, usually don’t have such a great readership. It’s a fact. There are exceptions of course. What would a news site be, if it only published once a week?

If I was able to monetise Technology Bloggers so that I could run it as a business, then I could dedicate more time to it, as it would become a job, not just a hobby. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we do host the odd bit of sponsored content, to help pay the hosting bills, and fund competitions, but this site is never going to make millions. I am not sure I would still want to blog, if it was solely for money though, so I don’t want to monetise the site.

So, here is the dilemma I have: produce okay content, daily; or produce quality content, less often.

I want to post 6 articles a week, only 3 are provided, who plugs the gap? Usually me. If I don’t I feel bad, as I don’t feel I have fulfilled my duty to the site. If I post the extra posts needed, but they aren’t quite as good as content I have produced before, I am angry that I let the posts go live.

There is a very fine balance which needs to be struck, and I am not sure I am there just yet.

Would you prefer to read 5 star articles once a week, 4 star articles twice a week, or 2 star articles daily?

The reason I am writing this is because I feel we had a great 2012, I had a great 2012 as a blogger, especially in the last few weeks. That said, I know my diary for 2013 is already looking pretty full. Friends, family, education, work and recreation all take a lot of our time, and rightly so. However other commitments I have, do mean that I will have less time to write in 2013.

Rest assured, I am not throwing in the towel and am going to continue to do my best to keep us up and running at full capacity, but there is a lot to do.

If you want to help, I am more than happy to accept suggestions. I would love to promote more users to author status, and give everyone more control.