Category Archives: Capstone

Thesis: Posted live


Thesis: HTML done, on to Flash and Content

Okay. The HTML is finally done. Well, mostly finally done. Out of all the rest of the pages, only the home page remains to be coded, and I’m leaving that one until last. Why last on the home page? Because the site has been developing as I’ve been going and the homepage should reflect the site that emerges out of the creative process, not the site as it was intended going into the planning phase.

I’m still scared on timing, and that fear is lighting fires under my butt right now. That’s a good thing, because it’s hitting that point in the semester when everything is hitting at once and it’s far better to be in overdrive now. The old juggling act is back, and I have to admit that I’m hoping this is the last time I’m asked to juggle this many balls at once for a while. Maybe even the rest of my life. (The trouble with stupid human tricks, you see, is that they all require a stupid human.)

But anyway, the HTML shells are done. The CSS checks out on all browsers (remind me to test it on IE 7 once more, I’ve been twiddling with it a bit lately), and that means that what remains is… the content.

Flash next

The next major task will come in the form of three panels utilizing flash and action scripting. I’m coding in AS 2.0 because a) it’s what I know, b) there are fewer backwards compatibility issues with those users who don’t have the most updated flash player, and c) it’s what I know. :^) Funny how that works out.

The first panel will appear on the homepage. It’s called, “In Their Own Words” and it will feature direct quotes from the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore about Native Americans. (They were all pretty mean to the First Nations people on the whole. George Washington was known to the Iroquois as ‘the Destroyer of Villages’). The quotes will cycle along the mountain from left to right, with each Presidential sculpture becoming highlighted while their quote is displayed. The loop will play continuously, but onMouseOver() it will highlight the particular president chosen. Because the Home page is going to be the last one coded, this flash piece will be the last one developed.

The second flash piece is the Timeline. This will be the most involved, and I’m going to try and tackle this coding first. The timeline consists of dates from the 1848 signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty up until the present day. The mechanics of it will consist of a graphical focus area in the center of the panel, or perhaps off to one side slightly. The timeline will have separate nodes on it… clicking on a node will make the selected node move to the focus area, and then the rest of the flash panel will display any photos or information on why that particular date is important on the screen. There will be a forward and back button, as well as a Start and Finish button to fast forward or back to the first or last node on the timeline.

The final flash piece is the Who’s Who gallery. A gallery of thumbnails on the left of the panel. Click one and the full sized portrait appears on the right side of the panel, and in the middle is a tiny blurb as to why this person is important to the history or modern reality of Mount Rushmore.

And then the Content Population

The three flash pieces should be relatively simple to code. I say that with only slight trepidation, because I can visualize mentally how to deconstruct the behaviors of each piece, and from my Information Animation class I see that as being the hardest step toward success in Flash coding. I’ll be using dummy graphics for the coding attempts and focusing primarily on getting coding done by Thanksgiving.

And that leaves the content population. Worry not, I started by doing my research into this topic and getting my content arranged into buckets that could be used to write the articles for. The articles are going to be written using Hanley’s ‘Writing for Online Media’ chunked style for informational narrative. It’s a bit counterintuitive to me to be presenting an argument without actually -making- an argument but instead providing facts and perspectives and allowing the user to wander through the site to make up their own mind. A veritable buffet of choices. Kind of like dim sum… nothing on its own enough to be filling as a whole, but sample enough here and there and the research pays off in a completely different way of thinking about Mount Rushmore… which is the overall goal of the piece from a content point of view.

Getting the content written up will come in spurts. It’ll probably be happening in between coding frustrations.

The overall architecture

I have to admit that I like the way that this architecture developed for me. For example, if I run over on one of the articles, I can just put a “next” link on the bottom of it to lead to page 2, or 3, etc. That plus a descriptive blurb like “Next: Gutzon Borglum’s secret love of shoes –>”. Just fer instance.

It’s a very textually oriented feel to it. Well, back to work on it.

Thesis: home sick, sitemap time

OOTO today with the flu, so I’m using the time to organize my thoughts and some of the initial research I’ve done for my capstone project. I’ve got a good bit of historical data and sociological commentary, and the content is beginning to form a cohesive shape.

I like working with the content first and then seeing how it’s going to affect the rest of the site design. While I’ve been slowly working on it and fretting all the while that I’m behind on my sleek schedule, I think that taking some extra time with the content has been well worth it.

Loose organization

The site will most likely see a title change based on domain availability. Not having a credit card or bank account right now  (prior to the Wall Street crisis, not in reaction to it) means that I can’t just go and reserve the domain yet, so I haven’t researched that yet. Ideas include ‘’ (.net, .org), “”, “”.  Stuff along those lines. Since I’m going to begin coding everything by the 12th of October, I’ll be making the investments and straightening out domain name hosting at the very least after the next paycheck.

The content suggest certain sections of the website.

  • Flash Timeline: This will contain the historical timeline of the development of Mount Rushmore, starting from the 1846 Fort Laramie Treaty and moving up through present times
  • “In Their Own Words”: Probably a Flash panel for the home page, this will be a closeup of Mount Rushmore with mouseover sound files and graphics treatment. Mouseover one of the heads on the monument and voice over will read the words that appear, giving a very racist quote against Native Americans which was actually said historically by each of those figures. I’m aiming for a bit of the ‘historical shock value’ with this, and hope that the juxtaposition of the patriotism of the figure and the sheer level of historical racism will entice the viewer to explore the site more.
  • Who’s Who: There are a lot of players on the stage for Mount Rushmore and the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) saga of American History, from General Custer to Gutzon Borglum. This will be a Flash panel which will display brief biographical chunks for selected portraits of key players.
  • Red – The Native Americans and the Paha Sapa: This is an HTML section of chunked and hyperlinked articles with facts and history surrounding the Native American/First Nations claims and activities in the region.
  • White – Manifest Destiny, Gutzon Borglum and the KKK: Also HTML/CSS section with articles about the interconnection between the philosophy of Manifest Destiny, the KKK connection with Gutzon Borglum, and the role of racism in the purposeful creation of a monument intended to generate a national identity
  • Blue – Old Grief, New Hope, and the Skies Ahead: HTML/CSS articles which will look at recent developments surrounding the Mt Rushmore monument. The Crazy Horse monument will be covered, as well as quotes from the US Supreme Court Justice Black when he summed up the latest attempt of the US govt to settle the land/treaty disputes still outstanding with the Sioux. Also it will cover the new steward of the Mt Rushmore site who is himself Native American, and it will also investigate the progress that is being made to finally update and include mention of the shadier side of Rushmore’s reputation within the park’s official materials, films, and publications.
  • Bibliography & Links : Self explanatory.

Color palette will most likely be US Flag colors: crimson, white and pale gray, deep midnight/navy mix. Black used as text color or for accents.

Next steps

Now it’s time for some storyboarding to think through the functionality of the site. I left myself the bulk of the time for the actual coding and debugging because I know that’s going to be the big one.  Before I get there I should probably do up formal wireframes and sitemap. Yeah, good idea. Well, that’s going to suck a bit, but it helps in the long run and it’s better to have too much documentation than not enough.

At the same time, I should populate the wireframes with whatever copy I have. It’s time to generate the copy content formally as well as start to edit it down. I want to keep my chunks to a 100-word maximum, and no more than three chunks of text per screen, roughly. Even that feels a bit text heavy. I might go to 75-word chunks and 3 per screen.

So… preliminary sitemap should be done tonight.Wireframes will follow. Initial design explorations as well. I have 9 days to get things to the point that I can begin working full time on the coding. I think I’ve got enough energy and resources for it, though it’s going to suck. But I’ll just work on things one day at a time until I’m through.

It’s only the first week of October and already panic is setting in. Oy.

Thesis: Research Process

At the end of the Capstone project, we need to write a paper which talks a bit about the process of creating this project, so I figure the easiest way to do that is to document well as I go.

I’m entering the phase of research where things are starting to gel. I begin most creative projects with a concept that immediately gets put into a giant lobster pot and put on the back corner of my brain’s stove to slowly get warm. Every so often I throw something into the pot to let it simmer, and every so often I give it a taste to see how things are coming together. (Unlike cooking, I can and often do remove items or ideas added in). I let my brain keep things going on a low simmer because if you try and rush things, they come out feeling rushed. But then again, there’s a point of no return with waiting, and eventually you just gotta get Nike on the project and Just Do It. Luckily I’ve got a good handle on what that sweet spot feels like, and we’re approaching it.

So instead of just letting ideas percolate and randomly surfing, I now find myself moving through my research more systematically. I’m now in hunter/gatherer mode. I start with a general goal, and then begin to get into methodical explorations, branching out along the network. And I use Zotero, so now I’m beginning to take notes.

Pictures, Too

One of the difficulties with the topic of Mount Rushmore is that there’s lots of pictures of the monument, but with history it can get difficult sourcing images to use. Actually, there are many images, but the trouble comes from trying to source them -legally-. So at this stage in the game what I’m doing is trolling through the Creative Commons looking for good quality images that I can repurpose. It’s a great site.

Creative Commons Search

Creative Commons Search

The Creative Commons search gives you a simultaneous search of Google, Yahoo!, Flickr,,OWL Music Search, and SpinXpress. You can check the boxes to filter so that it includes Commercial use or ability to modify, adapt, or build upon. I keep that one checked because I know that I’ll be repurposing these graphics quite a bit before I’m done.

Documentation for Photographs

At this point I’m going through the photos and doing two things. One, I’m saving them to my hard drive in folders which give the name of the site they came from and the name of the account owner who posted them originally. Look below for a sample:

Sample directory

Sample directory

Once the website and then the account name are in the directory, I then rename the photo I’m downloading with a file naming convention.

  • cc = Creative Commons
  • att = Attribution
  • noc = Non-Commercial only
  • sa = Share Alike

The ‘cc’ makes it clear that I got it off of Creative Commons, so I have at least partial rights to use the images without needing to open dialogue with the original owner. Then after that I need to pay attention to how they want it used. Most want attribution, so if I use the image I need to give them attribution somehow on the site that the visual was from. ‘Non-Commercial’ isn’t a problem for this project since it’s for academic credit. And ‘Share Alike’ means that anything that I make through these need to be kept within the Creative Commons domain.

Dotting i’s and Crossing t’s

While this sounds sufficient for tracking, I’m a bit paranoid because I know that by the time it comes for me to assemble my citations, I end up with the best of intentions and the worst of a paper trail. So I’m taking the additional steps of working within Zotero to further keep things straight. If you use the Right-click on an image in a browser where you have Zotero installed, it will give you the option to ‘Save Image As Zotero Snapshot’.

Zotero Instructions

Zotero Instructions

(The photo is of the bust of Gutzon Borglum, and was posted to Flickr by Imabaker3. Licensed under the Creative Commons. Attribution, non-commercial only, and share alike.)

When you save the image as a Zotero Snapshot, Zotero will generate a link to where the image lives on the web, take a snapshot/screenshot and save it in the Zotero directories, and it also gives you some additional options which make the tool worthwhile.

It’s those tools which are going to save my butt later much in the project process. For example, I’m generating tags for each of the image links which describe which Creative Commons rights are attached to them. That way, I’ll be able to access all of the information fairly straightforwardly. (It does slow things down a bit now, but I’ll trade a bit of precaution to save some sanity at the back end.)

Zotero's Image Snapshot panel


So you can see, it collects all sorts of information on the image for me. Since I told Zotero to take a snapshot, I’ve actually got two versions of the file to work from… one that I downloaded into the file directory structures manually, and the other that’s taken directly by Zotero and stored.

In both instances I can now work offline on the items.

My one complaint, though, is that I’m not sure yet how to share between the Zotero files on my home computer and the Zotero files on my laptop.

Well, I’ll figure it out sooner or later. There’s always the hard way of reproducing the relevant research or marrying the two automatic bibliographies by hand.

And now, back to getting images and doing research.

Thesis: Musing about panic

I work as an Interactive Producer right now, and I have to admit that I’m getting used to the weird feelings that happen at the beginning of the project when the client is like, “Go, go, go!” and we’re more like “Plan, plan, plan!”  At a certain point the planning needs to come together into something more solid and real and begin to be put into action.

I did up a whole project plan laying out everything that was necessary and made it fit into neat little boxes, but the reality has been difficult to arrange to match. Naturally. 😉

What I need to do next

I need to just jump in with both feet, arrange some time to focus on the project and get the content written or outlined, get the sitemap drafted, and get a feel for the overall design. Once I have that, it will inform how I need to flesh out the content a bit better by showing me what I have vs. need. Then it will also help me revise my designs, too.

One date that I want to adhere to strongly is Columbus Day for the day that coding begins. It means I have to have my planning stage done by then, and be full on into execution. ‘

Seeing what’s out there

What I’m building is called an Interactive Narrative. There’s a great website that I’ve been using to find other examples of Interactive Narratives, and I’ve been using the old Designer trick of surfing the competition and identifying items that work well, that I like, and which suggest ways of working with my subject material.

For example, there’s Hope & Living with HIV in Jamaica. It uses a couple of nice features. I like the idea of using photos as the background elements around the Flash interface, as well as using a bottom-nav element with fluid sizing. The site really did a nice job with putting in audio files and pairing them with snapshots of the person speaking. Rolling over the photo brightens it, and cues the audio file to play. Moving the mouse over all the photos with a little speed cues a slight babble or chorus of voices.

I see using it in my project by having a section called “In Their Own Words” which shows each of the four faces of Mount Rushmore. Mouseover will cue the voiceover audio that I’ll record with my friends to provide presidential-sounding voices. They’ll read the historical quotes that each of the four presidents said or wrote about Native Americans as the text appears in a box.

I’ve got a couple more ideas too coming from other Interactive Narratives, but I’ll save them for the actual work. It’s just nice to remember that the first step for design includes research as well. Seeing what’s out there and what works or doesn’t work is a valuable place to begin, hopefully saving time and effort in the long run.

And, ultimately, that’s what such excessive planning for interactive projects is all about.

Thesis: Starting the research

The problem with doing up such a wonderful project plan is that it quickly becomes apparent when you’re lagging behind. (I suppose that’s the point of a plan in the first place, eh?)

This is technically week 3 I’m in, and I still have yet to source the hosting for the site and determine the site’s name. These are things that can be done later, but I just need to make sure that wherever I end up parking this it will be able to stand for a year and it will be able to host the flash media that I need. I’m hoping to get all the hosting for as little as I possibly can, truth be told.

I was also supposed to have a fully fleshed-out timeline and all of my research done. I’m getting there. I’m using the Firefox plugin called Zotero. What a fantastic tool that is. I’m loving it. I highly recommend it for any scholars out there, or even just folks who like to take notes online about different websites. How the hell did I do any work of consequence in my undergraduate days without tools like this? How the hell did we do it without Google?

Interactive Narratives to Compare With

The one thing that’s been kind of cool, though, is that I’ve also been told where to find the online narrative collection by Richard Hanley. This is the kind of thing that I’ll be putting together, all about Mount Rushmore.

And the really cool thing is that after taking a look at some of the stuff that’s gotten done I really think that this can end up pretty cool. I’ve been finding some great quotes that will work well in crossfades. I’m thinking that I might want the entry to be very patriotic looking, showing the grandeur of Mt R, and then showing closeups of each of the Presidents on the Mount, and run their historic quotes about how they want to annhilate Native Americans. Kind of puts it all into perspective.

Oh, and the cool thing that I found out today in my research (well, cool as in ‘wow that’s an interesting tidbit’, because it’s actually really so very -not- cool in reality) is that the legal case of the Lakota claims on the Black Hills is the longest continually running legal dispute in the US history. It’s still ongoing, which is something I did not know.

Lots of opportunity for education here. I’m actually pretty partial to the Native American cause. I’m going to be pretty careful with my research, though, because a lot of the information which is out there on the net doesn’t seem to be citing and sources, and there’s minor disagreements about different aspects of things. If I present a biased story, that’s fine so long as I keep it factual and cite my sources.

Rushmore Project and Tact

I’ve started off with my research into Mount Rushmore again, and this time around I’m using the web and reaching out to strangers for assets that I can hopefully use to create timelines and flash montages. It’s a bit difficult, because a number of the folks that I’m encountering and reaching out to are Native Americans. I actually prefer the Canadian term, First Nations peoples. However, my undergraduate days were close by the St. Regis Reservation in northern New York State, and the Mohawks I knew from a couple of my classes just preferred to be called ‘Indians’, as un-PC as that term has become.

I never know how much to say. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one answers me. In many ways these letters are requests that are being cast out as a net to see what I can gather together. Collaboration is a big part of the social changes that the Internet has unleashed, so it’s in the spirit of global collaboration that I’m actually looking for photos from other individuals.

My topic, however, borders on an exposé. I am talking about well known historical facts… well known to historians and those whose lives are directly touched by Mount Rushmore’s murky past, that is. Penn and Teller did an episode on their series ‘Bullshit!’ which was the first time that I myself became aware of the controversy, so there’s more than a few of Penn and Teller’s viewers who also know that Mt Rushmore has more to it than just an icon of the American Dream…. it’s wrapped up in racism and Manifest Destiny and the abject historical greed of the United States. Our very own ‘Free Tibet’ issue, as one commenter to the blog so aptly compared things.

Tact vs. Guilt

I don’t want to come off as guilty when I approach these strangers. I don’t really feel any personal sense of guilt when I think of the Mount Rushmore controversy, but I do feel a bit of an obligation to have both sides of the story well represented, and it seems that so very few people know about the snarls in the development and execution of the monument itself.

At the same time, I did study Mohawk for two semesters in college. (The language is extremely difficult, but I can still sing ‘The 10 People’, which we used as a mnemonic for counting …. to the tune of ’10 Little Indians’).  My teacher was a woman named Kaseiwaian, which translates in Mohawk to ‘the Winnower’, or ‘She separates the wheat from the chaff’. She was part of an Alcoa grant-funded effort on the St. Regis Reservation to preserve Mohawk language.

Two semesters of it, two semesters of trying to learn how to speak Mohawk, and in the end I didn’t do so well. However, myself and another white student actually were given Mohawk names by Kaseiwaian in our second semester. Mine is Rotewe, or ‘he is happy’.  It was a nice gesture, and I was doing ceramics at the time, so I made Kaseiwaian a plate that I carved with a wolf’s head on it and the word ‘Iako:kwaho’ on it, for ‘She is wolf clan’, although Kaseiwaian told me I got the grammar wrong.  😉 Collegiate macaroni art, I guess.

In any case, I walked away from those two classes with a deep and abiding respect for the culture of the Mohawk in specific, and the rest of the First Nations by extension. That respect was deep enough that I honor them by *not* walking the Amerindian path spiritually or culturally. Heck, my ancestors stole their land and dignity, no need for me to take their culture. Besides, I can be white and still be respectful, appreciating without adopting.

I just hope that I can communicate that respect as I basically send out the word that I’m looking for photos, videos, podcasts, scans, etc. of media which relate to the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) and Mount Rushmore itself.