A Week of Berkman

Our home at the university is the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It’s a remarkable place, and although its motto is clear—”exploring cyberspace, sharing in its study, and pioneering its development”—the community that comes together here is difficult to boil down to tweet length. It includes makers, thinkers, doers, and dreamers—folks who mash-up and elide those tidy categories with joyous abandon. But if you’re interested in the ever-changing roles of the network in culture and society, chances are good that some project, person, or team at Berkman has something to teach you—and something to learn from you as well.

Rather than dilate on Berkman’s riotous diversity here, however, I’m going to suggest you discover its riches for yourself. Next week the Center will offer a host of opportunities to hear from Berkman thinkers, learn about Berkman projects, and discover ways to learn from faculty, technologists, and researchers associated with the Center. These include an open luncheon on Tuesday (kicking off Berkman weekly lunch series, a victual as well as intellectual feast of visiting thought, energy, and opinion); a Wednesday research showcase, in which Berkman’s many projects will offer insight into their work in science-fair style; and on Thursday, a reception to kick off this year’s Digital Problem-Solving Initiative, a university-wide program that gets teams of students to work cooking up solutions to technology-laden challenges in research, teaching, and administration. And there’s more! You can read a complete list of Berkman’s boot-up procedures here. Do join in the fun!

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Raining Bricks—A Color Grading Experiment

metaLAB has been partaking in a Summer of Color this year, which has brought a different color-related topic before the group each week for a discussion followed by a short period of collaborative making and tinkering.

In looking at color’s relationship to the digital world, we examined the history and progression of black and white to film color processes and then to digital compression of color and processes of color grading. These last two items we explored through looking specifically at the capabilities of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera in our equipment arsenal.

One strength of the Blackmagic is its ability to capture 13-stops of dynamic range, with the choice between film Log and video REC709. Working with the film Log option, we shot sample footage, which, out of the camera appears muddy, muting saturation in favor of wider dynamic range information.

We then took this footage and bringing it into Final Cut X, did basic adjustments, reestablishing some contrast by raising the highlights, and lowering the shadows and also punching the saturation. Following on this, we also played with adjustment of color temperature to try and create a shift from a sunny day  to a rainstorm and back to a sunny day. The use of legos and brightly-colored umbrella was to make the color shifts more visibly apparent.

Subsequent color-grading tests will be done as part of the post-production process on our upcoming film, Cold Storage, which we anticipate for fall release.

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To New Heights — Quadcopter Testing

Yesterday we continued testing our aerial video setup, which consists of a Go Pro Hero 3+ mounted on an Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal attached to a Phantom 2 Drone Quadcopter. 

After our conservative first flight, which did not exceed 40 feet or so off the ground, we delved into learning more about our rig’s abilities. In the latest flight, we honed the Phantom 2’s GPS home point feature, which once locking on to multiple GPS satellites, enables the quadcopter to return to its launch position and land itself—especially useful as it automates this in the instance of a signal loss from the controlling unit. We also launched this time with the compass fully calibrated, which allowed for a greater degree of control and course correction.

Another feature we tested this time around is the ability to adjust the camera tilt in flight, especially useful because the amount of fisheye distortion from the GoPro changes depending on its direction relative to the horizon line or any other linear plane. The GoPro allows for shooting “Superview,” wide, medium, and narrow—each tier evidencing progressively less fisheye distortion, but at the cost of resolution and breadth of view. The current model can shoot 4K at 15 fps maximum, 2.7k at 30 fps maximum, and higher frame rates as you go lower. This time around we tested at 2.7k, knowing we would be able to crop out landing gear or propellers that might drift into the shot while still having at least a 1080p resolution after cropping.

This time we also used the ProTune feature on the GoPro, which shoots with a flat color profile—preserving additional dynamic range at the cost of color saturation. Coloring in post-production can then reinstitute the lost color, which we did using basic luma waveform scopes in Final Cut Pro X for reference in conjunction with the automated color balance correction feature.

Armed with additional failsafes tested at lower heights and a nuanced set of GoPro settings, we went much higher as evidenced by the latest video and stills. The stills were captured using the interval shooting settings on the GoPro and no color-grading was done on them.

Our intent is to use the quadcopter to capture video to fill out our shot list for our Cold Storage documentary project, but can foresee applications for other metaLAB projects, especially those dealing with outdoor tree and plant life.



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Phantom Drone First Test Flight

In preparation for getting some aerial footage to complete our Cold Storage documentary, we took our new Phantom 2 drone out for a spin, sporting a GoPro Hero3+.

Our test flight consisted of several increasing altitude pushes, hovering to test the unit’s auto-stabilization, and steering around several basic obstacles. To film with consistent speed and control will require some practice, but by the end of our flight we were gaining increasing levels of comfort with the operation.

The auto-stabilization works well in conjunction with the gimbal, but in reviewing the footage, it becomes apparent that on occasion the body of the drone would come into view before it settled. Using a less wide-angle option on the GoPro will hopefully address this the next time out, as well as minimize the degree of fisheye distortion.

The position of the sun will also be a challenge during our shoot for the film, so as to avoid the cast shadow of the device appearing in the shot.

There is GPS functionality and more advanced features we intend to test in the next flight along with greater heights in a more open space.

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What is Curarium?

Curarium — what is it? Even if you pegged it as an aquarium for curating, what exactly does that mean? To point out some of the features and functions that Curarium enables with various types of collections, we put together this animation. We are steadily marching towards our beta launch. In the meantime, follow the Curarium blog for updates.

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Curarium Embeddable Record

Similar to visualizations, individual records stored on Curarium can also be embedded within other media like WordPress. This gives access to the curarium interface for the record, plus any annotations associated with it.

The code that generates this particular embedding is:
<script src=""></script>
<div class='curarium' style='width:800px;height:600px;'></div>

Stay tuned at!

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Big in Japan

Thumbnail visualization of a subset of the Harvard Art Museums collection, Japanese objects from the 17th Century

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Cold Storage Teaser Trailer

Out at the Harvard Depository in Southborough, Massachusetts there are many stories to tell. How do the books come to and from campus nearly an hour away? What is the best way to store a library collection whose offsite holdings alone are mounting to ten million? What does it take to keep books at cold preserving temperatures and film reels at even colder ones?

Our upcoming documentary, Cold Storage, uncovers an ecosystem of laser scanners, UV fly zappers, cherry pickers and a mezzanine of machinery. It shows a place where books are sorted not by the methods of Dewey or those of the Library of Congress but by size.

In this trailer, take a peek inside the expansive interiors where our story begins and stay tuned for the debut of our experimental and interactive documentary this summer, which will enable you to explore the HD as a lens by which to examine the cultural and technical dimensions of libraries.

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Treemaps are not maps of trees…

As the Curarium platform finally enters its beta stage, we are fleshing out some cool functionality, like the ability to embed curarium generated visualizations in other platforms such as wordpress. With two simple lines of HTML code like this:

<script src=""></script>
<div class='curarium' style='width:800px;height:600px;'></div>

We can embedd a treemap visualization displaying information about a particular collection.

Like, for instance, a diagram of all topics in the Homeless Paintings Collection:

A diagram of topics once we filter the collection to include the topic ‘beards':

A diagram of dates once we filter the collection to include the topic ‘beards':

A diagram of topics once we filter the collection to include the topic ‘saints':

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openLab Recap

This past Wednesday, metaLab hosted its Spring openLab at the multi-tiered Arts@29 Garden space to demonstrate the progress and interconnection of projects underway by the core metaLab team, students, and affiliates

The upcoming metaLABprojects publications were out for preview. Core provocations from one, The Library Beyond the Book, were remixed in a derivative playable card deck while Library Test Kitchen’s inflatable mylar reading room, receipt printer spewing forth the U.S. Constitution, and custom 3D View-Masters encouraged discourse about library space and content interaction. All the while reels of Cold Storage, an interactive documentary about offsite storage through examination of the Harvard Depository, played out not just the library beyond the book, but the library beyond the library.

Cold Storage is complemented by a humanities studio course, one of two to debut this semester (along with Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance). Existing outside a traditional departmental structure, these interdisciplinary courses have stressed a team-teaching dynamic and learning through experimentation in order to grapple with new materials, problems, and developing approaches to solving those problems with constant and critical evaluation of the process. In Cold Storage, a student may wireframe a web interface to host a staggering body of multimedia content or produce a tightly-focused video or audio piece that is part of the featured content itself. In Homeless Paintings, a student may investigate painterly representation of religious themes or design an algorithm to help identify a lost painting’s present whereabouts.

The lost paintings come from Bernard Berenson’s monochrome photo archive of Renaissance art, which concurrently is the pilot collection of Curarium—a web platform that ingests collection metadata and media to enable both item-level annotation and macro-visualizations that showcase and tell stories about the relationships among objects. Looking forward it seeks to also enable and enrich the kinds of stories that can be told about the relationships among multiple collections most immediately adding content from the Harvard Art Museums and the Arnold Arboretum.

Approaches to visualizing data from the Arnold Arboretum is the focus of The Life and Death of Data, which brought a series of projections and a topographic foam cut to openLab in order to map spatial and temporal acquisition patterns of plants and shrubs. The project is also slated to develop an online interactive documentary experience.

All of this merely scratches the surface of openLab, which also featured student work in data narrative, digital ethnography, and adversarial design from Mixed-Reality City and Connections, projects from the History Design Studio, work from Palladio at Stanford, and the bioluminescent Luminosities. Check out the video for a feel of the event.

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