Odds and Ends, mostly Odds

This week I decided to share with you three items sent in by readers. I didn’t have enough on each to make them into a full post by themselves (who am I fooling, if I can transform a discussion revolving around socks into something about social networking, then I surely could have done a post on each) so I rolled them in to this odds and ends post.

The first comes from Phil Broder. Every time I get an email from Phil, I make sure I don’t open it on a work computer. I don’t want to get put back on the watch list. This email was okay and worthy of sharing. He stated:

Take a look at http://www.jameshance.com/index.html. He’s my new favorite artist (Muppets and Firefly… two of my favorite things!). But you Star Wars geeks should love this too. There’s definitely something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.

In a snobbish follow up email from Paul (in which he didn’t copy Phil) he stated that he would leave this email for me to respond to since this topic was more in my court nerdom. He may be right but he didn’t have say it like that. I did like the fact that my “Star Warsness” is automatically being tied to Paul. It is about time considering many of his quirks have been connected to my persona.

The artwork offered by James Hance is described as “relentlessly cheerful art” on the website. His trademark is the combination of two distinct styles that most wouldn’t draw conclusions to and from.

The image above known as Promise is part of Wookiee the Chew (yes, Wookie is spelt wrong, silly artist) is a combination of Star Wars characters and Winnie the Pooh. Phil mentioned that there may be “something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.” He’s right; I’m not sure what there is to say except it is awesome. It’s also awesome that Phil admitted to liking Muppets.

The part that I find powerful is that it makes you think specifically about the decisions made by the artist and how specific styles can be connected to genera. This could be applied to an interpretive center making design decision to be at juxtaposition of the complexity of nature by choosing a clean, open, or geometric typeface (such as Futura) to add impact. Otherwise the art by Hance should simply be enjoyed.

The second piece comes from Sarah Keating. Sarah has issues with denial. She wants to claim that she’s a cool kid and not a member of the nerd herd but she can’t seem to stop showing people her membership card. Sarah stated in her email:

Each day I find myself acquiring more nerdy tendencies. A few weeks ago I found myself downloading NPR apps on my iPhone, and now I am reading NPR stories on the internet. Today, for instance, I was looking for a little inspiration on the NPR interns’ website and I clicked on a story link about plastic bag use, only to get the ever so popular “Page not found” – story of my life!! But as I continued to read I realized that NPR has taken it a step further and instead of making you disappointed in their inability to locate what you were trying to find they have put a positive spin on it (see below). HOW REFRESHING!!! I really do love NPR – GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

Sarah, embracing your inner nerd is the second step to obtaining personal peace after admitting you are a nerd  (immediately followed by the cessation of the excessive use of capital letters and exclamation points).

I wish I knew how to make the 404 Page not found on IBD offer suggestions, but I don’t. For those web gurus out there this is a great idea. I also have to admit that Sarah really doesn’t claim to read IBD but sent the email to me and several others. I don’t have her permission to share it here either.

The third piece comes from me (uh yeah, I’m a reader too, someone has to read Paul’s posts so you don’t have too. It’s just something I do for you). You got to love this link offered by the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City). Who doesn’t want a custom NYC Subway Sign set in one of the most famous uses of Helvetica, featuring the Yankees Stadium stop on 161st Street? You could also have one with some other landmark in New York City. Do they have others?

These iconic signs as well as other MTA items are offered on the website. The signs start at $25.

Keep the suggestions coming…you know we need them.

QR Codes, Microsoft Tags, and NFC Tags

The longest conversation ever to take place on the National Association for Interpretation’s LinkedIn page was about QR codes, Microsoft tags, and NFC tags. These are technologies used in magazine ads, on billboards and T-shirts, in murder investigations, and in many other media that can be scanned using a smart phone to provide a link to a website or other information. In interpretive settings, they can be used to provide access to information that augments the contents of signs or exhibits.

Here’s a quick breakdown of these technologies:

QR Codes
Based on my own unscientific observation, I feel like you see QR (“Quick Response”) codes more than the other two. About a year ago, I wrote a post about them, which, if it had been an interpretive presentation, would have had the following theme: “This is what QR codes are.” (Sam Ham would be proud.) Since then, I’ve heard from a handful of interpreters about how they’re using QR codes at their sites, including this example from Friend of IBD Bob Hinkle at Cleveland Metroparks.

Cleveland Metroparks’ Lake to Lake Trail features six signs similar to these, which are made of vinyl over aluminum, so they can be replaced quickly and easily for less than a dollar each, according to Bob.

You can read QR codes with the camera on your smart phone with an app called a “QR Reader.” I use an app on my iPhone called (wait for it) QR Reader. You can create QR codes extremely easily on a number of websites called “QR Code Generators,” like the one I use called Kaywa.

One criticism of QR codes is that they’re ugly and boring (also criticisms of the IBD blog authors), but Friend of IBD Phil Sexton shared this link to 15 Beautiful and Creative QR Codes, which shows that they don’t have to be. Above are examples from that article—tags for Fillmore Silver Spring, Louis Vuitton’s mobile site, and Corkbin. The article’s author, , points out that the QR code’s “30% tolerance in readability” allows this room for creativity. (Note that Cleveland Metroparks includes their logo in the middle of their QR code.)

Microsoft Tags
Terre Dunivant of Gaia Graphics and Associates wrote a post on her blog comparing the relative merits of Microsoft Tags vs. QR Codes. Terre prefers Microsoft tags for several reasons, including that they offer even more flexibility and room for creativity than QR codes. The examples below (from Microsoft’s website) are tags for Iams, Loescher (a book publisher), and Ciara.

On the negative side, so far as I can tell, you can only create Microsoft tags by signing up for a free account on Microsoft’s website, which I assume will crash your computer. In terms of scanning Microsoft tags, I use an app called Microsoft Tag Reader on the iPhone.

NFC tags
I’ll admit that I have not used this technology. I researched NFC tags to learn more about the rumor that Brett Favre was going to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, and I was surprised to learn that NFC, in this instance, has nothing to do with the National Football Conference, but rather stands for “Near Field Communication.”

Near Field Communication tags are the relative new kid the block—the Joey McIntyre of mobile data-sharing technology, if you will. NFC tags are different from QR codes and Microsoft tags in that they are actual pieces of hardware rather than printed codes to be scanned. Basically, you purchase and write data to tiny electronic chips, which are then able to share that data with NFC-enabled devices (like some smart phones) that come close to them. The obvious disadvantages to this technology are that you have to create the tags, and not all smart phones are equipped to accept the information. The advantage is that the transfer of data is much easier on the user’s end, provided they have an NFC-enabled phone.

This is technology to watch, but the limited number of people able to take advantage of it at the moment, in my opinion, makes it not quite ready for prime time.

As more and more people have smart phones—including noted Apple critic and new iPhone owner Shea Lewis—interpretive sites are taking advantage of these technologies. But there are questions, of course: What are the best ways to make use of this new technology from a pragmatic standpoint? (Cleveland Metroparks’ easy-switch sign is a good solution.) How do you make information contained in the codes available to those who do not have smart phones? (Note that Cleveland Metroparks has provided a website for those with no smart phone.) How will this technology change in the next six months to 10 years? (If we knew that, we’d be filthy rich.) Can you really justify calling a designated hitter a baseball player? (Clearly not.)

I’m curious to know if you’ve been using any or all of these at your site, and what sort of success you’ve had.

Apps for Interpreters (That We Also Kind of Like)

Most of you know where I stand in the realm of Mac vs. PCs. That doesn’t mean that I have to be against every single product that Apple offers. (Though it is true that the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad are all the exact same product just offered in various sizes.) What I can’t really wrap my mind around is how it is possible for Paul to write a post about iPhone apps and not make fun of the fact that I now have one too. I expect those comments to come rolling in today. Paul did a nice job avoiding hyperbole but I’m here to say these apps will change your life.

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For the first time ever on a recent birding trip and guided birding boat tour that I led, I didn’t bring a field guide with me. With the Sibley Guide eGuide to Birds app it is not necessary. The app has amazing options for viewing maps, hearing various versions of calls, along with all of the other images and information that the actual field guide offers. There are many other types of bird guides out there that cost less but overall I was most impressed with this one. It is pricy for an app ($29.99) but it is all about priorities. There are also apps for other naturalists’ interests such as field guides for herps, mammals, fish, etc.

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Speaking of apps for naturalists, LeafSnap is pretty cool too. First, it is beautifully designed. You can look through the browsing section for hours at a time.The feature that has made this app so popular is that you can take a leaf, place it on a white sheet of paper and photograph it (or snap it) and it will provide you with a list of possible species that you can peruse based on your location.

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If you ever find yourself problem solving or brainstorming and struggling with conceptualizing the issues at hand, SimpleMindMapping is available to you when ever the ideas are flowing. The free version allows you to save and view your mind maps but the paid version allows you to email and share the maps. As with most free technology today, the basic options are free and you pay for advanced elements.

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Keeping the Star Wars streak alive (and an attempt to continue to isolate any readers we still have) I bring you my favorite Star Wars-related app. I have a demanding job and personal life where at any given moment I’m searching for wisdom and guidance. Where do I turn? Thanks for asking, I turn to the Star Wars Quotes app. If Yoda can’t help me solve a problem, no one can. I also have friends (which may surprise you) who are also Star Wars fans (no we don’t dress up; well, only on special occasions) who are sticklers for accuracy that this app provides.

I tell you that to tell you this: There are quote apps for almost all interest areas that allow you to access information quickly and easily to meet your needs.

Today’s random quote from Han Solo in Episode IV: A New Hope: “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.”

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Speaking of quotes you must have, Dragon Dictation allows you to make your own quotes. It allows you speak into your iPhone and will take your transcribed dictation straight into a text message, email, word processing file, Facebook status update, or Tweet. If you need to make a quick note while out on a tour, you need this app. (Also, it’s great if you ever need to tweet or text while driving.) It is amazingly seamless, but struggles with my southern accent at times.

For all of you interpretive naturalist types out there please share your favorites below in the comment section. In the meantime I’ll be listening to bird calls on my iPhone.

Graphic Design Apps We Kind of Like

Every now and again, I wonder if my iPhone could be more to me than just the second-favorite member of my family. To that end, I regularly search the Internet for new apps that I might add. Invariably, I come across articles with titles like “10 Apps Every Redhead Must Have” or “The Best Apps in the History of the World for Baseball Fans” or “Download These Apps Now or You Will Die.” That all seems a little stark for us, but there are some good smart phone apps for graphic designers that I kind of like, so I thought I’d share.

Note that I am a cheapskate, so the apps listed here are free, with one notable exception at the end. Also note that I use an iPhone, so I ran these apps past my Android-using co-worker Jamie King, who confirmed their existence on that platform or suggested similar alternatives.

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Palettes
You may have guessed already that this app generates color palettes. You can create color palettes one color at a time using standard color sliders, or you can generate palettes from photographs.

When you have a palette that you’re happy with, you can export it in any number of ways. The app provides detailed information (hex codes, CMYK and RGB breakdowns, etc.) for each color. (Available for the iPhone. Jamie reports that this does not exist yet for Android users, but suggests one called My Color Guide.)

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Adobe Photoshop Express
Friend of IBD Amy Ford told me about this app, which allows you to make some of the basic adjustments you would make in the full Photoshop, like cropping, brightness, contrast, etc., right on your phone, as seen with this photo of my daughter below.

With the availability of this app, it is now officially possible to install Adobe Photoshop on any electrical device, including your toaster, your rechargeable toothbrush, and yes, your Android phone. (Available for the iPhone and on the Android market.)

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SimpleDraw
This app allows you to draw on your screen in several basic colors and different stroke weights. It is great for quick sketches, playful doodling, and entertaining your children in airports. You can save images that you like to your phone or email them to Grandma and Papa right out of the app. Note that if your children have been eating yogurt with their fingers, your screen will get sticky. Also note that if you only have one mobile device, your children will fight over it until one of them drops it in their yogurt. (Available for the iPhone. For Android users, Jamie suggests a similar app called Kids Doodle.)

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SignGuru
Friend of IBD Joan Lawrence recommended this app to us. And when she did, she said, “I haven’t had time to check it out yet, but it sounded good.” Well, if she had checked it out, Joan would have found a terrific app loaded with information. A section called “Specs and Guidelines” contains information on everything from color combinations to engineering basics, as well as guidelines on the Americans with Disibilities Act (ADA) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), among much else.

Not only that, a section called “A Good Sign?” shows you images of signs, which you evaluate with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and the app tells you whether your opinion is “Correct!” or “Incorrect.”

As a person who frequently tells other people that their opinions are incorrect, this appeals to my sensibilities. (Available for the iPhone and on the Android market.)

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WhatTheFont
This app identifies typefaces for you. Yes, it should be called WhatTheTypeface, but WTT is not as funny as WTF, and it’s free, so what are you going to do? Using the camera on your device, you photograph type that you find in the environment around you and upload the image. WhatTheFont uses recognition software to put a name to the typeface. I struggled with this app until I realized that your photos have to be oriented vertically rather than horizontally, but since then, I’ve been enjoying it. It doesn’t get it right every time, but even when it can’t find an exact match, the app suggests similar typefaces. (Available for the iPhone.)

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Dexigner
I almost didn’t download this one because the icon violates my first rule of logo design: No eyeballs. (Rule #2: No globes.) (Rule #3: Cleverly put a globe in an eyeball and you are banned from logo design forever.) Anyway, I did download the app and found that it contains a lot of useful design-related information, including a calendar of upcoming conferences and competitions, a list of recommended books, directories of designers, studios, and museums, and a lot more. (Available for the iPhone. Jamie did not find this on the Android market, but said that one called Dsgn: Design & Typography News might work.)

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MLB.com At Bat
Okay, so this is in no way a graphic design app, but I put it here because it’s just so great. Seriously. In my tenure as an iPhone owner, I have purchased only one app, and it’s this one. Best $14.99 I’ve ever spent. I like to stream the local Phillies radio broadcast and pretend that I’m eating a cheesesteak on the New Jersey boardwalk. (Available for the iPhone and on the Android market.)

Well, there you have it, our Top 7 Apps that Redheaded Baseball Fan Graphic Designers Must Have or They Will Die. Go get ’em!

Selling Intepretive Resale

For some time I have dealt with elements of obsessive compulsive disorder. I’m not as bad as my brother, but for some reason I do things a certain way, can be superstitious, and can be obsessive in the way I make purchases. For example, there was a time in my life, where Star Wars action figures (not dolls) were being re-released in coordination with the new Star Wars episodes. My obsessive nature wouldn’t allow me to be simply satisfied with picking up a figure or two of my most favorite characters. I had to have them all, including the alternate versions with various slight differences in packaging, images on packages, and length of light saber (not a joke, which now in hindsight seems really sad).

I was fairly newly married at the time and my good friend Joel (or Darth Frey, as my wife secretly referred to him…sorry Joel) who happened to be single, helped fuel my fire. As in most marriages, there came a tipping point when several hundred action figures that had formed a star-tastic border around the ceiling of my home office. I had to take them down.

Of course I properly stored them in acid-free wrapping and air tight containers to ensure their protection from the humidity of Arkansas, bright lights of Wal-Mart, and my wife. We moved several times over the next few years (farther and farther from Joel) and every time we came to the “toy” containers I was challenged to get rid of them. Eventually the majority of the figures found their way to eBay.

I still have some in storage that I just can’t get rid of because I know my 4-year-old son who just checked out two Star Wars books from the library will appreciate their value and importance. He may also be the chosen one (sorry IBD-TCO) that will help bring eternal balance to the Force.

Let’s face it, I became a consumer because of an emotional connection to the movies that Forced (no pun intended, even though the F is capitalized for some strange reason) me to invest in the products. I guess you could say I was Jedi mind tricked, but we know that only works on the weak minded (like Paul, who follows the weak-minded rules of grammar and can be tricked with cheese-covered meat to pull for a team).

It is no secret that those responsible for marketing have used interpretive techniques for some time. The idea of building an emotional connection to the consumer/customer had led to many successful campaigns and the transfer of billions of dollars. This month’s trend briefing from Trendwatching (one of the world’s leading trend firms, trendwatching.com sends out its free, monthly Trend Briefings to more than 160,000 subscribers worldwide) displayed this interpretive approach in new ways for consumers to invest in their products. Here are a few of the highlighted products that have interpretive implications.

RememberMe is a collaboration between Future everything and an Oxfam store. When people donate items a recording is taken of any of where/how they acquired it, any memories attached to the item, and any other associated stories. The audio files are then attached digitally through QR codes. What if interpretive sites attached key messages to the items for sale in their gift shop that related the experience to the item? Who says it has to involve a smart phone or a QR code? A hand-crafted label could be simply applied.

Remakes offer a product that could support your environmental message. By taking billboards and transforming them into placemats, Remakes is repurposing something that would have taken up space in a landfill. This may not apply to most interpretive sites but the principle behind it could.

Nspiredstory allows people to submit stories with meaning behind them, that are then voted on. The winning story is given to an up-and-coming designer to produce a limited edition T-shirt based on the story’s theme. I see all kinds of program options here along with promotion possibility of interpretive site promotion.

Similar to that of Remember Me, the IOU Project (don’t get excited Paul, this par isn’t about vowels) attaches QR codes to sustainable clothing that allows you to gain insight about what your purchase is doing for the person who wove the fabric in the article. The connection is powerful and provides an intangible element to a traditional purchase.

Since those obsessive days, I have found ways to curtail my obsessive nature. The quest of collecting children ended at three due to cost along with wear and tear on my wife. I now collect hiking stick medallions (which are low cost and take up very little space, even though I’m on my third hiking stick and I have only two hands), continued my life bird obsession/collection, and World Championships as a fan of the New York Yankees.

140 Characters or Less

Some of you came here today hoping to only have to read a 140 character post. To keep the tradition alive of disappointment on IBD, I’m sorry to inform you that that this post is much longer.

In my new job I spend a lot of time in my vehicle driving from place to place. I have become dependent on podcasts of all types to help pass the time. This probably won’t surprise you but I listen to several podcasts related to sports (Pardon the Interruption, Colin Cowherd, and Tony Kornheiser) as well as some of my favorite shows  from NPR (Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Whad’Ya Know, and Car Talk). One show, BackStory with the American History Guys, has really grown on me and I look forward to each new broadcast. I have even been downloading back issues of the show.

BackStory takes on topics in history with a modern perspective and is very interpretive in nature. The three history guys (18th, 19th, and 20th century guys to be exact) make topics applicable to listeners today. Marking the beginning of the sesquicentennial (a super fancy way of saying 150th anniversary) of the Civil War, BackStory created a series of three shows that covered issues of setting the stage for war, why the war was fought, and questions that remain today. One of the sidebar conversations that I found of particular interest was transforming the entire story of the Civil War into a 140 character Tweet. The 18th and 19th century guys were remarkably unsuccessful (no surprise) and the 20th century guy even found it difficult. I tried in conversation with myself and found it difficult to count the amount of letters and spaces up to 140 so I gave up. Try it. It is difficult (to count that is).

I can’t claim to know enough about the Civil War to even attempt to take on this thematic Tweet but overall I was more interested in the exercise itself (insert your own joke here about me being interested in exercise). Communication through Tweets and texts today is commonplace but I’m not sure that many of us don’t put much thought into maximizing our messages. There are plenty of examples of celebrities and athletes who did not think before they tweeted.

As interpreters and interpretive designers we spend an extensive amount of time and effort into crafting our theme statements and placing emphasize on our themes in our programs and products. (As we should.) Here are some tips that you can use to improve the power of your theme statements and Tweets.

Write in the active voice.

Avoid personal pronouns. (I particularly like this one.)

Think before you write, then write, and then revise.

Don’t be afraid to punctuate! (I know Paul loves this one!)

Stay away from big words.

Make it meaningful.

In a great example of brevity Ernest Hemingway wrote his shortest story consisting of six words. Here it is: “For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never worn.” That’s 34 characters for those counting. Imagine what he could have said in 140.

Here’s the challenge for you today. Write a thematic comment below that sums up this blog (Paul or me) in 140 characters or less. Jeff Miller, I know this may be difficult for you.