Reality Check

On a few occasions we have had guest bloggers on IBD. We have done our best to keep it from happening since these “guests” just make us look stupid. Today is one of those days. We have a guest blog from IBD readers Colin MacArthur and Fabio Fraticelli. They were members of the 2010 Acadia National Park Youth Technology Team, a Friends of Acadia sponsored effort to envision the technological future of Acadia. Today Colin and Fabio are also principals at Almond Consultants.

So, by employing a tactic that I learned in high school, I will do my best to neutralize this perceived threat by undermining their presence by making comments under my breath or in today’s case in parenthesis and blue. It has worked well for me in past keeping me from being beat up 7 out of 10 attempts (two times I ran, and one time I got hurt). See how that works, it’s easy.

Seriously we are glad to share their expertise and experience here (plus it keeps you from having to read another one my irrelevant posts). I like this article because I think it will get some of you personal interpretive purists worked up.

Augmented Reality: Necessary Science Fiction?

When I first introduced the idea of augmented reality (also known as AR, not to be confused with the State of AR where Shea lives in a perpetual state of AR) to one of my older interpreter colleagues, she furrowed her brow and replied: “Augmenting reality, isn’t that what we already do every day?” She pressed on, “All these booklets we write, all this signage we design, all these exhibits we compile. Aren’t they augmenting reality? What’s the point of augmenting reality with a cell phone?” The techno-interpreter in me fumbled as I realized I couldn’t justify using a multi-thousand dollar cell phone app to identify the plants a 50 cent booklet could. (As with most of my conversations with women, I would have said because it is really cool and I like it, and run away cackling. Don’t knock it until you try it.)

To hear some, augmented reality enabled visitors will soon replace my uniformed colleagues, their signs and classic plastic tubs of interpretive props. (Why is it that most everything I do, like, or use today considered “classic” or “vintage”?) Smartphone armed visitors will train their phones on everything along the path to be greeted with interactive explanations, video clips and related social network postings. The National Mall’s new app. previews AR’s capabilities. When visitors point their iPad or iPhone cameras at monuments and buildings, they are annotated with their name and links to relevant information. (My mom taught me that it isn’t nice to point.) And apps like Peak Finder match illustrations and diagrams with the surrounding landscape.

But why spend hours creating AR tools? Interpreters spend hours planning and creating experiences for visitors. AR is one of a growing number of technological tools that helps visitors create experiences for themselves. Instead of following the guided booklet descriptions or reading a wayside sign, visitors using augmented reality find out more about whatever piques their interest. The media itself rewards curiosity and adventurousness. In short, AR creates opportunities for visitors to investigate what interests them instead of what interests us.

Augmented reality tools can also lower the cost to delivering personalized visitor experiences. For example, an AR app for Acadia National Park could let visitors pick which spots they learn more about. Some visitors could opt to explore cultural history, others geology. (By the way, that geology guy is a hoot to party with.)

How could you augment reality in parks to mold experiences to visitor preferences? We’ve thought about creating augmented reality tools that show:

● info about flora, fauna and culture resources of a specific landscape with detailed images and videos;

● past pictures of buildings for example history pin; (not to be confused with Pinterest which is great for the craft challenged.)

● pictures of landscapes in different period of the year which is good for phrenology;

● comments of other visitors about a specific resource which is good for social interaction;

These opportunities come at a cost. Not only a cost to parks, but to the visitor. (Okay, personal interpretive purist, here’s your chance.) Augmented reality enabled phones constantly use both internet and GPS signals ickly lose battery life. And until someone comes out with a set of useful “developer toolkits,” that the cake mix developers use to speed up their time developing complicated applications, augmented reality will remain extremely expensive.

But you can still try it at home! An increasing number of low-to-no cost services allow you to experiment with augmented reality. All you need is your smart phone and an internet connection.

The list of “off the shelf” augmented reality tools is long and increasing. We tried Layar, “an industry pioneer, which hosts the world’s leading mobile augmented reality platform with thousands of developers and content layers, and over 10 million installs of the Layar Reality Browser.” Layar ships with many Android OS devices, so it’s got a built-in, large audience.

Layar lets you view augmented reality information from many different sources. Each source is a “layer.” Here’s the good news: because Layar is so popular, many third party tools can help you creating information layers compatible with Layar. For example, Poistr provides an easy to use editor for adding points of interest to a map that appear as augmented reality spots in the reader. You can attach descriptions, images and relevant websites and even have animations or videos automatically appear when users encounter certain places. (I knew dancing baby was going to make a comeback.) Once your layer is created, you can export it and all the Layar’s users will be able to integrate it into their browsers using just a link.

Layar’s undeniably cool, but still limited by the battery life and connectivity of devices. How likely is it that new developments will overcome these limitations? Quite likely. Devices will continue to use power more efficiently and have longer lasting batteries. And many companies are working hard to offer AR browsers that requires no connectivity (cell phone connection or wi-fi): Layar says they’re very interested in this kind of feature. Some open source AR browsers can create apps that use data stored locally instead of remotely (and thus, require no internet). AR will be available everywhere and all the time. (Thanks for the contribution guys. I’ve got to make it to Acadia one day. But I’ll probably leave my phone in my pocket.)

Fun with Googling Colors

I was on the phone with Friend of IBD Howard Aprill not long ago, when he described something as being the color “vermillion.” Because Shea and I are going to present a graphic design workshop this summer at Wehr Nature Center in Milwaukee, where Howard works, and because I am a graphic designer, I felt I should know what color vermillion was. Rather than ask, I changed the subject of the conversation to baseball and on the side, quietly Googled “What color is vermillion?”

Of course, the rest of my afternoon was shot. I’ve always wanted to know the difference between sea foam…

…and sea mist. (Not much.)

Or the difference between cerulean…

…and manganese. (Cerulean’s a little darker, maybe?)

Then, of course, this led to further exploration. (All while Howard and I were still talking, mind you. This may explain why I apparently agreed to sing “I’m a Little Teacup” during our workshop in Milwaukee this summer.) What if you Googled “What color is [something that is not a color]?” Some (but not all) of these turned up interesting results.

What color is nature? (I thought this would come back overwhelmingly green. Kind of refreshing that it did not.)

What color is energy?

What color is Greece?

What color is New Jersey?

And, of course, this led to even more exploration. (At this point in the conversation, evidently, I’ve agreed to buy everyone Brewers tickets and wear a T-shirt that says “I’m Ryan Braun’s pharmacist” to the game.) I took a few of the screen captures above and uploaded them to my favorite color-palette generator, Kuler, which I wrote about way back when.

Here’s what I got for vermillion:

Cerulean:

Energy:

Nature (I love this one):

And New Jersey:

I think what this amounts to is a kind of fun, Internet-based brainstorming—and sometimes it works better than others. I would never commit myself to generating a color palette for a project exclusively using this method, but the results that it returns could be a springboard for thinking about colors in ways that you haven’t before.

I plan to explore this more in the future, and I’d love to see some of the results IBD readers come up with in the comments of this post. In the meantime, I have to figure out why my presenter’s agreement with the Wehr Nature Center says I’m doing Howard Aprill’s laundry.

Have a Platypustastic New Year!

I have been making New Year’s resolutions on this site since we started doing this in 2009. And I’ve accomplished some amazing things based on past resolutions: I threw out that old, disgusting Tupperware in 2010, and I have not feathered an edge in months.

With that, here are some promises Shea and I make to you for 2012:

  1. We will learn about platypuses—web-footed, venomous, egg-laying mammals that they are.
  2. We will embrace new media. Learn about it. Talk about it. Use it.
  3. To my wife’s chagrin, I will at least triple the size of my collection of Major League Baseball ice cream sundae helmets.
  4. We will get a pet platypus.
  5. Shea will finally call Cy Sperling to see what can be done.
  6. We will not place photos in compositions at random angles (and certainly not with drop shadows).
  7. We will introduce a new word to the English lexicon: platypustastic.
  8. We will use that extra day in February to its fullest potential.
  9. We will become huge hockey fans. I will root for the Philadelphia Flyers because I grew up in Philadelphia and I am still connected to that community through family and frequent visits. Shea will root for the Montreal Canadiens because they have the most championships and that’s how he picks his teams.
  10. We will start a podcast. A platypustastic podcast.

Happy new year!

 

Get to Know a Typeface! Cooper Black

Cooper Black is heavy, round, and friendly. It might as well be the third author of IBD. (The blog, not the book.) (We already have a third author of the book, and I would never call her heavy or round.) (You see, since Shea and I are heavy and round, like Cooper Black, and the two of us write this blog, the joke here was that Cooper Black could also be an author of this blog.) (I reiterate, I was not calling our reclusive and mysterious third author (of the book, not the blog), diehard Texas Rangers fan Lisa Brochu, heavy or round.) (Though Lisa is friendly. One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet! Hi Lisa!) (I better get on with this.)

When I look at Cooper Black, I think of Chicago. This is because I’ve always thought Cooper Black is what a traditional serifed typeface would look like if it ate like I did for the one week I spent in Chicago. (Did you know it’s possible to consider an entire deep-dish pizza a mid-afternoon snack?) It turns out there’s another reason to associate this typeface with Chicago: It was designed in 1922 by Chicago’s own Oswald Bruce Cooper. (At the time, Oswald was thinking, “It’s been 14 years since the Cubs won a World Series. It’s about time they win again!”)

In 1972, US President Richard Nixon issued an executive order that all communication worldwide be conducted exclusively in Cooper Black. It’s important to note that while the previous sentence is entirely false, it might as well have been true, because Cooper Black was used a lot in the 1970s. To wit:

This 1976 poster for the movie King Kong.

The flag (often mistakenly called the masthead) of National Lampoon magazine. This one here was from 1970.

The Beach Boys’ album “Pet Sounds,” released in 1966 (which we understand is technically not a part of the 1970s).

The end credits for the TV show Cheers, beginning in 1982. (Let’s face it: I was there in 1982 and it was still part of the ’70s.)

And just so that we know it’s still around, Cooper Black still shows up pretty regularly in high-profile places, as with the logo for Slurm soda in Futurama:

Cooper Black is the VW Bug of typography. There have been periods where it was wildly popular as the people’s font, then widely reviled as too round and kind of ugly, then popular again in a sort of ironic way. Graphic designers who use Cooper Black are the same people who wear plastic-mesh-backed John Deere baseball caps without ever having been on a farm. They think it’s funny but they’re not sure why.

Cooper Black is indeed used a lot, so many designers shy away from it, but it was carefully crafted by a talented type designer and it’s perfectly suited for certain purposes, so using Cooper Black cannot be compared to using actual bad typefaces like Comic Sans.

Ultimately, I like Cooper Black and would use it if the occasion were to arise. Now I just have to get hold of the guy and see if he wants to write this blog with us.

Add this bird to your life list

Shea and I share many interests, which we call The Six Bs*: baseball, blogging, buffets, baseball, being married to people way out of our respective leagues, and baseball. One interest that we do not share, but which also begins with a B, is birding.

When we’re at NAI National Workshops every November, Shea usually says to me something like, “A couple of us are going to get up at 4:00 in the morning and go sit in a freezing-cold puddle in the middle of a big field for a few hours. Wanna come?” For a long time, I thought this was Shea’s way of telling me he didn’t want to hang out, but I learned recently that this group of people was actually doing the thing he said. They take binoculars and birding books and sit in freezing-cold puddles. Then they look for birds and check “lifers” off their lists.

I have a healthy respect for life lists and collections in general. I keep a running list of Major League Baseball stadiums I have visited (19, including seven that are no longer in use) and I am dangerously close to becoming obsessed with my ice cream sundae mini-helmet collection. However, the extent of my interest in birds boils down to a three-tiered classification system that I learned from an NAI friend: Big, Pretty, Other. (It used to be a four-tiered system, until Shea told me that I cannot count “Buffalo Chicken” on my life list.)

I don’t actually object to birds (though there have been a few incidents when it seemed birds thought I had a target on my head). In fact, when I’m in a place where there are interesting birds (in the “Big” or “Pretty” categories) or birds that I used to sing about as a child, I have been known to actually take photos of them, as with this actual kookaburra sitting on an actual old gum tree that I saw in southern Australia in 2010. (Note that this photo was taken from the deck of a house while I was drinking coffee in the late morning, rather than from a frozen puddle while it was still dark.)

Given my interest in branding and identity, especially where they cross over into sports, and my relative lack of interest in birds, I was intrigued to learn the back story of the Phillie Phanatic, the mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies and the best mascot in all of sports, objectively speaking. The Phanatic was introduced in 1978 as the last survivor of a flightless bird species from the Galapagos islands.

Just recently, the Phanatic returned to his native land on a tour offered by Lindblad Expeditions—the same Lindblad Expeditions that interpretation superstar Sam Ham has collaborated with since 1988 to promote conservation of the Galapagos. Worlds are colliding! There’s an article about that collaboration in the September/October 2008 issue of Legacy magazine. (You can see a photo album of the Phanatic’s visit, including the above photo by Celso Montalvo, on the Phillies website.)

I, for one, am glad to see the Phanatic involved with Lindblad. In the 2008 Legacy article, titled “Using Interpretation to Promote Conservation in the Galapagos,” Sam Ham says, “The conservation community is watching the Galapagos example…. If conservation can’t work there, where can it work?” To date, according to the Lindblad website, interpretive techniques—making people care about the place—have helped them raise $4.5 million, “more than any other organization in Galapagos.”

And while all of this has piqued my interest in birds, it’s funny that Sam didn’t mention the Phanatic once in that article. Probably because he’s a Mariners fan.

All of that said, I still don’t see myself getting up at 4:00 in the morning to go look for birds at next November’s NAI Workshop in Virginia. I prefer my favorite birds to show up at coordinated holiday events in downtown Ocean City, New Jersey, and be willing to pose for pictures.

Notes
*Not really.

Ten Reasons to Join Us in Minnesota

The NAI National Workshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is fast approaching (November 8–12), and online registration closes this week. So go to the Workshop website and register now. Do it now!

Every October, I write a post about why you should join us at the NAI National Workshop. The actual reason is that it’s an inspirational and worthwhile professional development opportunity. And not only that, you just never know what sort of fun you’re going to have there. You may end up sharing a meal with a leader in the field, coming up with great ideas for new programs at your site, or witnessing two tubby knuckleheads getting their heads shaved against their wives’ wishes.

With that, ten reasons to join us at NAI 2011 next month!

  1. Saint Paul was established by the first-century apostle Saint Kirby Puckett, patron saint of Twinkies and dingers. (I may have to stop doing all of my research on Wikipedia.)
  2. Shea and I will present a concurrent session about blogging (Wednesday, November 9, at 1:00, for those of you marking your calendars). If you like reading Shea’s 150-word sentences with no punctuation on this blog, imagine hearing them in person! (If that doesn’t interest you, you can see the full list of other sessions here.)
  3. In the course of researching Minnesota culture and customs over the last year, I came across this thing called a Tater Tot Hotdish. If that doesn’t make you want to go to Minnesota, then we don’t want you there. (Photo by SEWilco.)
  4. Shea and I will be auctioneers at the scholarship auction. The event supports up-and-coming leaders in the field, and offers great deals on all sorts of goodies. Bring your own rotten fruit and vegetables to throw at us, free of charge!
  5. The largest ball of twine ever made by one person is located in Darwin, Minnesota, just under 70 miles away. You’d better believe Shea and I will be road-tripping there, and we’ll be singing Weird Al Yankovic’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” all the way there.
  6. The Minnesota Timberwolves have two games scheduled while we’re in town. If the NBA’s not on strike, we may try to win the T-wolves’ “Lucky Fan Gets to Be the Starting Point Guard” contest.* I will take my Christian Laettner Timberwolves jersey** to see if it brings me luck.
  7. Friday at the Workshop, we’ll celebrate 11:11 on 11/11 twice (though the second time will be after Shea’s 9:30 bedtime). Can you imagine celebrating that event with anyone but the IBD Nerd Herd?
  8. If it’s warm enough, we’ll go for a dip in the Mississippi River. We haven’t checked the weather forecast, but we’re going to be optimistic and take our bathing suits.
  9. Saint Paul is responsible for 14 of the epistles in the New Testament. (Sorry, that’s the actual saint, not the city in Minnesota.)
  10. You just never know who’s going to get their head shaved.

See you in Minnesota!

*Our first NBA joke on IBD!
**I actually do own a Christian Laettner Timberwolves jersey.

Saint Paul photo by Alexius Horatius.