Generation … Y?

31 October 2007

This tortoise is lagging behind in the race to finish 23 Things. The hare has well and truly taken the flag, and Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny have gone home too for a well earned rest. But just when it looks like the tortoise has accidentally rolled over onto her shell and won’t get up again, she has a little help from a bending robot and manages to launch back into the seventh leg.

For those who didn’t get a word of that, I’m sorry for mixing my metaphors; it’s that time of the afternoon when my first few daily rounds of caffeine abandon me and my head goes to mush. I’m of course referring firstly to the Aesop’s fables (I hope they still teach those to the kids in school?); secondly to the wonderful canonic literature of children’s writer Beatrix Potter; and finally to a classic Futurama episode where Bender reveals that, like a tortoise, if he rolls onto his back, he can’t physically get up again. The friendly tortoise teaches him to roll from side to side vigorously until finally the force flips him upright. By the end of the episode, the show’s lovable metallic antihero is able to overcome his weakness AND save the robot population from a dastardly death at the hands of the Nixon administration.

Futurama … for when you can’t find a Simpsons quote for everything …

OK, I promise I’ll stop being sidetracked by edible greens, low-brow culture and an honest day’s work, and I’ll try to stay up-to-date with the program.

So, image generators … I’m not sure that I can find a place in my daily tasks for pavement graffiti and Simpsons avatars, but I had fun nonetheless when I had a play with several of the generators suggested on the post for Task 7. Most of them were pretty easy to use, as long as the nasty flashing banner ads don’t induce a seizure …

Here’s my Image Chef product (with apologies to Bob Dylan for the timely but unclear iteration of his worthy text):

I found this website very easy to use; it offered me the option of copying and pasting the code into my blog (as I’ve done here), or clicking a shortcut button that would automatically post the image to WordPress on my behalf. As I like to be in control of what’s published here in my name, I chose to do it myself.

I’m not sure I’m instantly recognisable as a Simpsons character but here goes anyway:

Me as a Simpsons character

You might also like to try a generator I found myself, which creates a shadowy mirror image from a photo you upload or link to. Here’s what I was able to do with it:

Reflected image
(Created with a photo from my Flickr photostream, taken in the beautiful Yarra Valley region)

Another tool turns a photo into a text file (what a clever concept!), although I recommend that you use an image with strong shapes and contrast levels, like a picture of you or your animal companion. You can download the text to a plain text (.txt) file, or link to it like this. The original photo is another from the Yarra Valley, and resides in my Flickr photostream. I can’t for the life of me remember the faithful dog’s name, but he followed us everywhere and even guarded the door at night. His mate Toby the sheepdog, in the absence of sheep, regularly tried to round up the resident alpacas and copped a spit in the eye and a swift kick for his troubles. This is the lovely farm/vineyard/holiday unit where we stayed and I highly recommend it.

Last of all, I couldn’t resist this website, which I found through The Generator Blog (to which I now subscribe):

create your own


torture your emo

As you can see, it helps you make your own emo, and they’re interactive (which is more than you can say of most emos, who are frankly too hungry and too busy writing bad poetry to do very much …) Unfortunately the save and copy features don’t seem to be working, but you can still have a play nonetheless.

Oh, and on a final note, in case you saw the title of this post and thought I’d explain it, Generation Y concept doesn’t exist. Neither does ‘Generation X’, ‘Baby Boomer’ or ‘Depression Era miser’. People are just people. Yes, nurture does have a tangible effect on our development, but ultimately we’re governed by our own natures, our own values and desires, regardless of the decade in which we were born.


A photo from my Flickr album

30 October 2007

There is one good thing I forgot to mention about Flickr.

I’m really pleased that it provides a script for logged-in users to paste images to a website. It makes including an image in a blog post much easier. Hence:

<a href=”; title=”Lily”>
<img src=”; alt=”Lily15″ height=”375″ width=”500″ /></a></p>

becomes a much more manageable:


For anyone who doesn’t know her already, this is my wonderful lilac Burmese cat, Lily. She’s not to everyone’s taste, I know, but she’s devoted to her family. Lily’s getting on in years now but she’s still a glamorous little princess. She’s pictured here cuddling up to her favourite feather duster in the late afternoon sun.

Giving Flickr the flick

29 October 2007

I’m afraid I’m less than satisfied with Flickr.

I joined Flickr last year when I first started work on Swinburne’s digital collections. I’ve always been a pretty average photographer – it might be partly my shortsightedness, but it’s mostly to do with me panicking and jumping at the last minute just before I hit the ‘go’ button. I end up with some impressive ghostly images, but the intended subject usually eludes me. Suffice to say, don’t ask me to take your wedding photos unless you don’t mind sharing the limelight with the undead.

Working on the Swinburne Image Bank, an online gallery of over 2500 photos taken during Swinburne’s 99 year history, I don’t have to take any photos myself, but I’ve learned a bit about DPI resolution, export formats and image enhancement. Some of my favourite Image Bank submissions to date include ‘youthful seamstress’, an ‘ETS 2010 modular electronic typing system’ that’s almost as old as I am, and some glorious examples of fashion through the ages: 1975, 1977, 1987 and 1990. The influence of everyone’s favourite TV couple is palpable. There’s also plenty of inspiration for anyone needing an authentic Halloween costume, especially if you’ve forgotten the art of ‘business in the front, party in the back’ or you’ve misplaced your Dame Edna glasses.

To be serious for just a moment, the Image Bank is actually a very important tool for Swinburne, in terms of documenting and displaying its progression from working man’s college to TAFE and higher education institution with an increasingly impressive research profile. We’re very lucky to have such a vast catalogue of Swinburne’s staff and student achievements; most other Victorian universities have nothing like it (although I found this gem in Monash’s gallery).

Swinburne Image Bank is harvested by Picture Australia, the National Library of Australia‘s online pictorial collection, which has an interesting interaction program with Flickr, the subject of this post and the embodiment of the fifth and sixth 23 Things tasks. Flickr is an online photo sharing and management tool owned by the Yahoo corporation, and you need a login to join (unless you already have a Yahoo ID, in which case you can use that).

Flickr allows you to upload and share your photos with friends, family, and if you want, the world. You can choose to assign a Creative Commons licence to your happy snaps, allowing others to use your photos for non-commercial purposes as long as they give you credit (as I did here). However, if you’re keen for your images remain the same when reproduced, and you don’t want them recycled like this, then you should read the fine print about attribution, non-attribution, non-commercial etc licences before you agree to them.

In many ways, Flickr is the perfect Web 2.0 tool. It helps ordinary Web users explore their creativity by tagging and sharing their photos with others. It also allows the more serious paparazzo to receive feedback through the comments facility, a good alternative to workshopping in person, and after all, Web 2.0 is all about recreating the physical through the virtual. Joining a Flickr group provides access to photos and social networking opportunities with likeminded people. On advice from some of the other Swinburne 23 Things bloggers, I’ve joined Swinburne photos (still a small pool) and Withnail and I, (photos from devotees of the movie who have recreated scenes all over the English countryside), and I also found a group called Vanishing Beauty, for photos of beautiful old things trying hard to survive in a world obsessed with the new. It’s an interesting concept for a website designed entirely around new technologies.

With over 1500 photos uploaded every minute, Flickr is an indispensable resource for images to spice up your presentations, blog posts or even your workspace. The Flickr blog presents some amazing photos from all around the world, and a quick search on ‘Swinburne library’ shows that even our humble environ has a presence on Flickr.

Yet Flickr is far from ideal. My first stumbling block was having to create yet another login – I haven’t used Yahoo regularly since Google arrived on the scene (with far better search capabilities and email functionality) and my membership had lapsed. Next I found I could only load 100MB per month (a quota I quickly filled, unfortunately). Worst of all, being a compulsive categoriser, I struggled to limit myself to the 3 free albums (or ‘sets’, a Flickr-specific term Dana finds unhelpful) available to me. I’m not prepared to purchase extra space when Picasa Web allows me 1GB of storage at no cost, and uses my Google account.

Despite these administration problems, I really enjoyed sharing the few photos I’m able to, and admiring the work of others. As Dana suggests, Flickr is a wonderful tool if you’re ‘just looking’. If you like, you can ‘just look’ at my photos here, although I’d love it if left a comment!

There’s nothing (ig)noble in being superior to your fellow men (or women)

24 October 2007

You may have noticed that Doris Lessing won the £765,000 Nobel Prize for Literature a couple of weeks ago. According to the exchange rate this morning, the prize is worth $A1.76m. That’s phenomenal; Australian writers think they’ve hit the jackpot if they win the $42,000 Miles Franklin. However, it is worth noting that the Nobel Prize is a lifetime achievement award, unlike the £50,000 ($A115.432) Man Booker, which hinges on the success of a single publication.

I’ve never read a Doris Lessing work, but I admire her for being the oldest person ever to win the Prize (she’s 88) and only the eleventh woman to win in its 106-year history. She’s also won 16 other major international awards for works on topics as broad as communism, psychology, science fiction and Sufism (mystical Islam). I also admire her for her remarkable acceptance speech. Unlike Gwyneth Paltrow’s tearful Oscar script, or Günter Grass’s ‘Writers have always spat in the soup of the high and mighty’, this is what Doris Lessing said to reporters:

‘I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with surprise. I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off … I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I’m delighted to win them all. It’s a royal flush.’ (here and here)

I think she’s a bit of fun. She even has a MySpace profile.

In other prize news, Walt Crawford’s Cites and insights (PDF) drew my attention to an Australian librarian who has won the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize for Literature. The Ig Nobel Prize rewards (or shames) research that ‘first make[s] people laugh, and then make[s] them think’ (here). Glenda Browne was recognised for her article in ‘The definite article: acknowledging ‘The’ in index entries’, which appeared in The Indexer. Crawford notes that her work addresses a ‘legitimate’ concern, particularly in the case of online collections using sorting algorithms, but I can see that it might have limited appeal. For those who are interested, you can find the article here (PDF). For those who prefer a rollicking good read, I recommend the Thursday Next chronicles.

Further information
Past Nobel Prize acceptance speeches
Glenda Browne’s acceptance speech
A definite article on the definite article, The Guardian, 01 August 2006.

Engaging with Social Media in Museums

18 October 2007

I apologise for being a bit slack with my posts lately. I’ll try to make up for it with this report from an event I attended at Swinburne yesterday with Dana.

The Engaging with Social Media in Museums seminar was run by the Swinburne Institute for Social Research, which investigates subjects as diverse as social policy, media, youth, gender, housing, citizenship, immigration and public administration.

The Presenter
Dr Angelina Russo
Queensland University of Technology and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Creative Industries and Innovation

Dr Russo and her colleague Jerry Watkins will both be jointly appointed to the Swinburne Faculty of Design and the Institute for Social Research in early 2008, where they will begin work on a new ARC Linkage Project designed to:

1. Investigate innovative connections to social media networks by museums, through digital content, multimedia design and communication strategies
2. Advance creative engagement between museums and learners, information searchers and content creators
3. Lead debate within museums through reference to design, audience evaluation and cultural communication

The Project
New Literacy, New Audiences and runs in partnership with Museum Victoria, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, the Australian Museum and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum at the Smithsonian in the United States. The project looks into how social media can be used to facilitate cultural participation. Its main goal is to see user-generated content presented alongside more authoritative content in a way that suggests ordinary people have something worthwhile to contribute to their own cultural heritage. The project’s researchers want to challenge the notion that the plethora of user-generated content available on the web devalues the authoritative content produced by established educational and cultural institutions. For more information on this argument, you might like to have a look at Andrew Keen’s controversial text The cult of the amateur: how today’s internet is killing our culture.

Social Media and Scholarly Research
The question was raised:
are cultural institutions losing ground to Web 2.0?
* The top 5 educational and reference sites in the US are not scholarly resources (Wikipedia,,, Yahoo! Answers)
* Google Scholar is Number 6
* Google Book Search is Number 7
* No educational institutions appear until Number 9

Web 2.0 Tools have Strategic Purposes
Through the 23 Things Project, we’re learning how to use Web 2.0 tools. Some of these have proved useful, and some (like Digg) relatively worthless. Some tools are appropriate for the library context, while others may be more useful for sharing personal anecdotes with family and friends. Most importantly, we’ve seen that we need to remain aware of when is appropriate to use them, and not try to replace perfectly effective channels of communication with Web 2.0 tools just for their novelty value.

Dr Russo and her team believe the following Web 2.0 tools might best fit each purpose:

Conversation Blogs, podcasts, vodcasts
Customisation Tags, bookmarks
Content Sharing Online audio, video, photo sharing
Co-creation Bespoke tools

We’ve seen through the 23 Things Project that blogging and commenting on others’ blogs can be a great way to spark discussion, as it allows readers to communicate both with the blog author and with other readers. The ARC Project is looking at this process with a view to how we can align scholarly content (blog posts from subject authorities) with user-generated content (comments left by users).

Dr Russo used this entry from the Sydney Observatory Blog as an example of how this might be beneficial in an educational context. In the post, a circulating email hoax about the planet Mars brushing too close to Earth is debunked by a leading Sydney Observatory astronomer. The 137 comments from users show how they responded favourably to the trustworthy information, and to each other. The same blog provides an example of how user-generated content might be presented alongside content created by a subject authority without emphasising the barrier between the two. Some of these photos of a lunar eclipse were taken by professional astronomers, while others were contributed by amateur star gazers who took photos on their handheld digital cameras and mobile phones. As all images appear together in the blog post, neither style is presented as more ‘valuable’ than the other.

Dr Russo used the Powerhouse Museum’s OPAC 2.0 Collection as an example of how user customisation might help develop a collection. According to Dr Russo, approximately 3% of a museum’s collection is on permanent display, leaving 97% rarely or never accessible to the public. To bridge this gap, the Powerhouse Museum has digitised their collection records and provided online access to most of their collection. The Museum published the OPAC 2.0 Collection without consulting curators, allowing them to assess the records after they were uploaded. A similar project at the Smithsonian where the curators were consulted first has failed to get off the ground. This example from the Powerhouse’s collection shows how users can add keywords to an object to help create a folksonomy. These user-generated subject keywords are designed to operate in conjunction with the more traditional museum collection taxonomy (see the numbered record list). Only 4% of users initially tagged items, but 50% of later hits came from these tags. This introduces the idea of a passive audience (the 96% who chose not to add tags) versus the active cultural participants who contributed to the database and helped other users find the content later.

Content Sharing
Museum Victoria ran the Biggest Family Album in Australia Project in 2004 to collect historical photos of everyday people doing everyday things. This was a unique opportunity for members of the community to contribute a piece of their own identity to the cultural record. Some of these photos were later digitised and made available online (here’s a charming example).

The example used was the Victoria and Albert Museum’s family history collection, which allows users to create a space for storing photos and ephemera related to their families. Arguably, a similar example is the Facebook Developers platform, which allows backyard programmers to create Facebook applications to share with their friends and the wider Facebook community.

More Information
If you’d like more information on this project, the blog is designed to keep project partners in touch with the community and each other, and to facilitate discussion. You can also read more about the grant or have a look at the plans for a workshop and conference in late February 2008.