This week we examined a computer programming program called “Scratch.” “Scratch” allows users to create their own interactive programs involving stories, art, animations, games and music. The program is aimed at mostly younger children, as it provides them with an introduction to the world of computer programming. This will allow them to be somewhat familiar with using computers once they reach higher ages. “Scratch” is centered on solely creative activities, but does provide a taste of what it is like to set up a computer program and how to deal with programming language. For me, once I downloaded the program, it took a little while to figure everything out. But once I got a hold of it, “Scratch” was pretty fun to mess around with. I can see it being useful to future generations in helping them to become familiar with and better understand how to use computer programming.
This week’s readings focused on the issue of preserving historical information in a digital age. The article by Roy Rosenzweig touched on this subject in great detail. The main issue Rosenzweig wanted to emphasize was the growing need to find an effective way to store digital information, as this type of data is easy to lose over time. An example he brought up was the site Bert is Evil. This site had a large impact in world affairs, as it included a picture with Osama bin Laden which became used in anti-American ads. This angered the owners of “Sesame Street,” who threatened to take legal actions against Bert is Evil. Dino Ignacio, the site’s creator, then took down the site to prevent any trouble. The problem is, once the site was deleted, there was no way of finding any documents from Bert is Evil, preventing future research or analysis of the situation from occurring. This is the main problem with internet data: it can be lost very easily. In fact, digital media generally lasts only about ten to thirty years before it vanishes, whereas our current forms of preservation (paper, microfilm) last anywhere from 100 to 500 years before it is no longer usable. The reason it is important to store digital media is because, in today’s age, it is increasingly becoming the main form in which information is expressed. The internet is home to an unimaginable amount of useful historical information, which will be vital to future research, as old methods of documenting information are dying out. One solution to the issue of storing digital information was the creation of the Internet Archive (IA). The IA is a private organization that began archiving the web in 1996. Still though, there is too much for the IA to archive on its own. Unfortunately, the government still does not want to take the lead in the effort to preserve digital information, although they have worked with IA on several occasions. Rosenzweig believes that the government needs to take a more active role in this effort, as it is critical to future historical research. He believes historians should make an effort to do the same. One positive step towards this is the fact that the National Archives and Library of Congress are beginning to take a more aggressive approach towards digital preservation.
The websites we had to explore this week were digital archives of various tragic events in recent American history. They included: hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and the Virginia Tech shootings. The websites included personal testimonies by those who experienced these events, pictures and video from the events, and other documents related to the events. It was interesting because it allowed one to get a taste of what the first hand experience was like for those who lived through these catastrophes. These types of digital archives will prove to be useful in the future, as there is no other place where one will be able to find so many primary sources regarding events like September 11, Virginia Tech or Katrina. As Rosenzweig pointed out, though , in order for these websites to remain significant for research, a better way of preserving them needs to be implemented. The other website we explored was from the Library of Congress. This website was advocating digital preservation, and it provided information on how to effectively preserve one’s digital materials. It demonstrated the Library of Congress’ growing interest in the importance of preserving digital materials, and will hopefully help to better educate people on how and why they should do so.
This week’s readings and explorations left me with a bit of an information overload. All of them demonstrate the capabilities of online technologies to group together various forms of information in massive amounts. The Daniel Cohen article, “From Babel to Knowledge: Data Mining Large Digital Collections,” discusses the syllabus finder program, which retrieves documents that are relevant to a specific search. This program allows for teachers, in particular, to find course materials for a specific subject, and as a result, build a syllabus for their course. This program seems like it would be a very effective tool for instructors to use when designing their courses, especially more effective than just simple google searches would be. I think the program truly demonstrates the advantages of living in a technological age, as it allows people to have access to thousands of documents, which may have been difficult to find otherwise.
Of the websites we had to explore, I was most interested with the Time magazine corpus. This program retrieved sections of old articles which contained information about, or were related to a search for a specific word or phrase. It was pretty interesting to see which words have come up most often within Time articles. Similar to this was the BYU Corpora, which allows users to find various texts which use certain words from a specific language. This allows users to view how certain words are actually used within their language. The Wordle website also focused on the use of certain words, only in this case it focused on displaying which words were used most often in a given text. It shows this through interesting visual charts. I found the bookworm website to also be very interesting, as it provided access to a large amount of literature sources that were related to a word that was searched. If one were to, for example, search “war”, it would generate a graph which showed how frequently that word was used within documents during a certain time period. it also showed how often the word was used in literature of other languages. The last website we had to explore was the google Ngram viewer, which I was not quite sure what its purpose was.
All of the websites which we explored demonstrated the capabilities of internet as a means for storing data. I can definitely see how the internet could be very useful in historic fields, as it will allow great amounts of information to be stored, and retrieved with relative ease. This will allow research and the creation of statistical data to become much simpler tasks, since their will be easy and organized access to documents/sources.
Prior to reading Edward Tufte’s article, I had never really thought much of PowerPoint in a negative sense. It had always seemed like an efficient and effective tool for presentations/lectures. However, I will say that Tufte’s criticisms of the program have caused me to doubt PowerPoint more than I used to. One thing which Tufte points out, that I am now starting to realize is a problem, is the over emphasis on the style of a slide show rather than its content. This leads to some rather confusing presentations, as information is not presented in a clear manner. Another issue with PowerPoint that I have noticed is that the presenter will often put too much information onto the slides, which makes their overall presentation quite boring and makes it difficult to keep up with note taking, since there is too much to write down.
The problem of cramming slides with information was not a problem at all with the Gettysburg presentation, as there was very few bullet points at all contained within the slide show. However, I felt the slides were a little to vague in this presentation, which would also make note taking difficult because it would be hard to keep up with which discussion point the presenter is on. This is a problem I have especially noticed while in college. Many lecturers do not guide the audience through the slides clearly enough, which can cause confusion. As a result, the audience has a troublesome time trying to understand the bigger picture which the lecturer is trying to paint.
What the PowerPoint articles have showed me is that there are many issues which currently exist in regards to power point presentation. Usually slide shows are either over done, with excessive design or too much information, or they provide too little information. The simplest way to fix this is to place an emphasis on slide shows which fall somewhere in between. The slides should be simple, with a minimal amount of bullet points. In order to make this work though, the presenter needs to be sure that they stick to the structure of their slide show and not jump about through bullet points. They should also make sure that it is clear which bullet point they are focusing on before they begin to continue their discussion. I believe that doing these things can truly help to solve some of the woes of PowerPoint presentations.