Image Assignment Sunday, Mar 18 2007 

Well, I have been poking and prodding images for days now and I think my eyes are finally glazing over! Possibly the toughest thing I have yet to master is touching up a photo without leaving marks of my own on it. I may have picked images that are too old, but with the amount of damage on some of them, I seem to want to over-touch them (that doesn’t sound good at all, does it??) and when I do, it leaves this pattern that kind of looks like tracks a 4-wheeler would leave…unfortunately, they might be on Ulysses S. Grant’s face!!

Anyway, I am not sending in my site until tomorrow after a little more work, but I just wanted to share one of my more frustrating experiences…

Photograph Manipulation Monday, Mar 5 2007 

So, I asked about manipulating photographs last class and both Mark and Jenny, that I saw, have talked about it in their blogs.

I have been thinking about it more and I guess I am okay with it as long as it is fully disclosed – the changes made and where to find the “original” photo. But then I thought, as reading Cameron Moll’s blogs That Wicked Worn Look and Wornamental, Thornamental and the many linked blogs, don’t photos already convey certain biases and problems before any alterations are made?

For example, I remember in an undergraduate art history class discussing one of Alexander Gardner’s famous photos of several dead soldiers after the battle of Cold Harbor. The consensus was that the photo had been positioned to be as dramatic as possible, with all of the skulls facing the camera and that leg hanging out front. A more contemporary example would be the subject of Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers – the planting of the flag on top Iwo Jima’s tallest ridge. The photo taken of that, which is now immortalized in the Marines monument in Arlington, was the second time that action had been performed with a different flag.

What does this mean for historians? Are those two actions (here I am, for argument’s sake, assuming Gardner’s photo was staged) somehow distorted because of the knowledge that these photos were doctored in some way? I don’t think so, only because what they symbolize and represent (which is, as far as I am concerned, the importance of photos – they aren’t the event, that can never be recreated; instead, photos, just like documentary evidence, are merely representations of the event) is still conveyed – Cold Harbor was a very costly battle in casualties for the Union Army and the Marines had taken the tallest and most heavily guarded pieces of Iwo Jima.

Thus, in the end, I think I lean more towards Mark et al who say a better idea than retooling a photo with the “worn” look to make it appear as it would now after years of aging, would be to make it look like it did when it was taken. Then, I suppose the question is how do we know what that looks like? And that, it seems, is where some good ol’ fashioned research would be needed…

Am I Color Blind? Tuesday, Feb 27 2007 

Ok, am I the only one who found Tufte to be less than helpful? I thought the book was neat and the stories were great, the Challenger one most of all because I remember that but was way too young to really comprehend what was happening, being 8 I think. And I did like ch 6 especially on the use of multiples. But honestly, the thing I found most helpful of all was his discussion in ch 3 about practical advice for giving a talk or a paper! And that was only tangentially related to his overall topic of visual explanations.

Maybe it was his presentation that I found a little off and if it was, I guess that would be a perfect thing to talk about given that it relates so nicely with both what he was trying to explain and what we are currently trying to accomplish in Clio II. It, simply put, seemed too cluttered! And that is fairly ironic since, in Ch 4, he discusses ways to reduce clutter and make visuals clear and effective. And I think he failed in doing that himself! Whoa, did I just blow your minds??

To boil it down, I guess my problem is this: it seemed as if the things Tufte was trying to impart to me were important but I felt like I was, at times, reading a children’s book. On the other hand, Williams’ book IS a children’s book (using “children” here as a variable for an inexperienced and overwhelmed novice) and I seemed to get much more from it. I don’t know, I could definitely be crazy since most folks seemed to love Tufte…

These are my comments on other folks’ blogs for this week:

Doing digital history cheaply Tuesday, Feb 13 2007 

Carrie Bickner’s book Web Design on a Shoestring was great. If there is anything most of us in Clio II will be doing, when and if we do a digital history project, is designing on a budget. And that budget may be significant but it is more likely, especially if it is a solo project, that it will be fairly skimpy. So, what are we to do? Well, Bickner has several suggestions. And, as displayed by my refusal to buy Dreamweaver (both because I am poor AND more importantly because I do not see myself doing any digital project until I am out of grad school, and you know by then it will be on Dreamweaver 12!!) and work with the not-so-user-friendly nVu/Kompozer, I am all about the low budget. Luckily, I have finally gotten the hang of all the little quirks as you can tell by my decent but VERY SIMPLE portfolio and css page. The one thing I would have liked is for Bickner to have created a 5th character – maybe a lowly grad student who has a budget of $0 or close to it. That would have been awesome!

The only other topic I will touch briefly is the issue of designing one’s webpage for multiple browsers. I would comment on the The Polyglot Manifesto but it seems many people have already done so and I figure I will comment on their sites as opposed to writing any further on it here. As for designing with IE, Mozilla and other browsers both old and new in mind, I was shocked to see what my site looked like on IE! The heading was the main problem and no matter what I tried I couldn’t seem to fix it easily. And it seems one of my problems (I am sure there are many) is my use of pixels, for the most part, instead of percentages or ems. The reading on css-discuss addresses this and honestly, I had not even thought to try my page on IE until then. I guess that tells you how much of a digital guy I am and also how much I have grown to love Mozilla and thus, detest IE. Back to my problem: I like pixels, I know what a pixel is. I really don’t have any idea what an em is and, while I know what a percentage is, what is this a percentage of?? But it seems like a significant issue, especially since I think a majority (right?) of web users till use IE as their browser. Hmmm, not good…

And here are my comments on other folks’ blogs for the week:

The lost art of Footnoting Monday, Feb 5 2007 

I loved the NYT book review by Gertrude Himmelfarb. First the title is great: “Where Have All the Footnotes Gone?” Second of all, I just love the subject matter because I too hate endnotes and absolutely adore footnotes. I especially love those long 1/2-pagers that give you so much extra content and places to go to continue your studying if desired. The beauty is, you can look down from your page without having to annoyingly turn to the back of the book, and see what the author has to say further than he/she says in the piece. If it’s useful, you can read the whole thing and jot down some interesting notes for future reading.

So, the question becomes: is this possible and how does one do this easily on the Web? Piggin.net addresses this problem in its “macro-typography of footnotes” section. Although they suggest interleaving the notes inside the text, I see pop-ups as the best for us as historians (and the CSS seems relatively easy…famous last words?) with side notes as the second best. If it were easier to interleave the notes after paragraphs, that may work but apparently that is difficult. And anything labeled difficult by these folks, I tend to believe them! But both pop-ups and side notes can be “separate” from the document yet close enough as to not interrupt the reader’s flow too much. They will also allow for those wonderful and lengthy footnotes that can link to other sources that could then be pulled up in another browser or tab. That seems like money to me…

Our first readings: Style in webdesign Monday, Jan 29 2007 

So, I was reading the fairly easy-to-read and understandable Stylin’ With CSS by Charles Wyke-Smith and it hit me that this was the first computer jargon book that I have read since probably my computer programming class in high school teaching us how to write hangman programs in DOS! Whoa!!

Anyway, the main topic I would like to raise and discuss is this idea of presentation on the Web and its importance. Let me preface this by saying I have never been much of a “surfer” so maybe my opinion is in the minority, but designs of websites has never been much of a necessity for me in picking which sites to use or become fixated with using. Now, I am not saying presentation is unimportant or should be disregarded – if one has the knowledge, design-sense and ability to make one’s site pleasing to the eye, well by all means go for it. But my favorite site (or at least the one I have used for the longest and that I use most frequent), Yahoo! has, for a long time, been criticized for its lack of good appearance. The newer version has gotten better reviews, but I have used and loved Yahoo! for over seven years now. And as for Google, while Luke Wroblewski raved about its small but creative design changes to its logo over the years, honestly I have never noticed! When I looked at the different logos in his digression on Website personalities, it was hard for me to recall any of them and I have used Google fairly consistently for years as well.

In other words, I think design, creativity and appearance is definitely important to some people (and maybe most people), but it has never been important to me. Or, when ranking a website’s importance, usability, ease of navigation, content and reliability all rank well ahead of presentation. And yes, presentation corresponds to some of those criteria, but on its own, it is way down on my list of priorities.

My new blog! Monday, Jan 29 2007 

For those fans of de-Constructing History on blogger, this is the new and updated version, de-Constructing History 2.0 here on wordpress (do I get a credit for mentioning them in my post??). Many exciting rants on Clio II to come, so stay tuned…

And being from New Orleans, of course a Fleur-de-Lis is appropriate. I actually had to change my backgorund becuase Prof. P told me the dark background with light text was difficult to read, and I agree, I just liked the dark one when I saw it. But luckily she made me alter it, because then I found this wonderful New Orleans-centric background! Woo-hoo!!

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