Ideas

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="http://www.curarium.com/records/1403.js"></script>
<div class='curarium' style='width:800px;height:600px;'></div>

Stay tuned at Curarium.com!

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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 winter, 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="http://curarium.herokuapp.com/collections/1/visualizations?type=treemap&property=topics&format=js"></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.

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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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Visualizations Week in HS2!

Alert!
In class during visualizations week, we focused to a great degree on the content of the viz, the value-add, the real reason for its rendering. But in section, we worked mostly on getting familiar with some data viz platforms. The students will carry these skills with them into their final projects and create visualizations that straddle nicely the gap between form and content, but for now they are strictly eye-candy. 

Some Lev Manovich Imageplotting:

776 Van Goghs plotted Hue-Median (x) v. Saturation-Median (y)

hue_median vs brightness_median

Students noticed some potential trends, do you?

Van Gogh Again, 776 Again

Brightness-Median (x) v. Brightness-Median (y)

FerranteImagePlot

 

Manyeyes Tag Cloud of the screenplay of 12 Years a Slave 

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 11.37.45 AM

 

Self-Explanatory Tagxedo

stateoftheunion

 

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Humanities Studio 2 Midcourse Highlights

For their midterm project, students were asked to develop a set of criteria for building a collection of Homeless Paintings and create a spotlight in Curarium to share the collection they derived from those criteria. The criteria could take the form of an ontological scheme, or it could focus on iconography, place, or creator, or take entirely different form. Regardless, the spotlight needed to explain the criteria, curate individual works by its terms, and strive for the high comprehensiveness.

You can see some of the students’ work on the Curarium platform, which has an ever-changing and improving face:

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In “Sign Sign of Three”, ungrad Shuya Gong studies paintings that feature Madonna, baby Jesus, and a third figure. She found 700 paintings and chose a sample group of 75 for her study. She categorized the paintings by how the three figures were arranged, finding that faces and poses came up again and again. She created a visually striking map and key of her chart of these figures’ relationship in space:

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Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 7.43.57 PM

Shuya went on to do a fascinating close reading of some particularly similar sets of paintings. You should certainly check out her spotlight on Curarium.

Ben Zauzmer’s “Auto-Reverse Google Image Search” was another stellar project, which also gives a sense of the diversity of skill sets and interests in the class. Ben explains in his spotlight: “I wrote a program that loops through all 11,233 and marks which ones have a Best Guess on Google Reverse Image Search. Since Google prevents scraping, I used Selenium WebDriver to repeatedly open and close a browser that would automatically search Google Images, and then I used Python to record the results and write them to a CSV. The program took about 31 hours to run, or 10 seconds per painting.”

He found that about 771, or 7%, were matches, and that, true to that proportion, 7 of the first 100 had matches. So he investigated those records manually as a representative sample. Take a look at what he found at his spotlight.

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Nick Montfort, Pall Thayer, and the spare poetics of code

photo (16)

In “Programs at an Exhibition,” a recent show at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery, Nick Montfort and Pall Thayer offered a cluster of works that play with and subvert the divide between analog and digital art (the show closed on the 16th of March). While superficially similar, the work of these two artists is quite different in media and computational means—and it was that difference, as much as the wit and slow unfolding of the work itself, which served to animate the show.

BASIC, the language in which Montfort works here, is structured by the unique computational demands of the Commodore computer and the version of Microsoft BASIC its creators cobbled together in the late 1970s. Its processes take place in a universe simpler and more severely determined than today’s faster, capacious, richly-networked systems, and its constraints are severe, even harrowing. Perl by contrast, born a decade later than Commodore BASIC, lives in a realm of relative computational abundance, making easy reference to character sets, file structures, and networked assets beyond BASIC’s ken. The contrast is a striking one—and strikingly expressed in the installation at the Cyberarts Gallery, where Montfort’s chunky vintage machines lined up on a table opposite the sleek, flat display panels playing Thayer’s works in Perl. In their instantiations, both sets of programs wittily evoked analog works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Vito Acconci, and Joseph Bueys with cascades of characters and strobing colors.

The pieces comfortably took up residence in the light-splashed Cyberarts Gallery (which wonderfully lives in the MBTA’s Green Street station in Jamaica Plain). The decision to pair each machine with a printed-out caption of the code it ran put the starkly different means of the two programming languages into dialogue. Montfort’s involuted, single-line programs give BASIC something of the tang of the Old English of Beowulf—sharp and shorn, barbed and battered by the harsh economies of its habitat. Perl, by contrast, might be the programmer’s version of Occitan, the language (a cousin to latter-day Catalan) of the medieval troubadors, whose poems chimed with the decadent elaborations that flavored courtly life in medieval southern Europe—a fanciful dichotomy, which manages to caricature both the software and the vernaculars in question. Programmers of philological bent will find the comparison to Occitan especially laughable, given Perl’s cobbled-together nature and its reputation for clunkiness; a better example might be the macaronic jargon of the later middle ages, of which Pig Latin is an impoverished descendant.

Both artists have written about the expressive power and aesthetic powers of code—Thayer offers a comprehensible primer on the peculiar beauty of Perl, while Montfort has written copiously on the software’s artistic depth and richness (here, here, and here, for starters). In any case, Montfort and Thayer’s wit and economy are well-matched in these snippets of code which, while similar in length, are so contrasting in their ways and means. Taken together, their work offers the non-coder a satisfying look into the expressive possibilities of software, while deftly stretching code’s constraints into the realm of sensibility.

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Library Machines & Raspberry Pi

Since the Open House in December, Library Test Kitchen has been preparing to go on the road. In just a few weeks we’ll be heading to Austin, TX for South By Southwest Interactive. With a huge hand from the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation, we’ve secured a spot right in the center of the action for LABRARY, a bike-powered pop-up library that will be open to the public .

mailer

In addition to a brand-new inflatable reading room (designed and built by Ben Brady and Arielle Assouline-Lichten), a couple of student projects from last semester are getting revised and will be featured at LABRARY. One that I’ve been helping out with is Object Lens, by LTK III students Carmine D’Alessandro and Kate Brown. Object Lens “allows users to capture video of their drawings, notes, and other two-dimensional or low-relief objects.” The act of looking is transformed through the device, which employs a series of internal mirrors to set the user’s field of view; Object Lens “defamiliarizes and reframes the user’s experience of the object, and gives him or her an opportunity to easily narrate and save that experience.” The project explores questions of what can and should be archived, how the physicality of an object can be communicated through digitization, and how information about an individual’s relationship to an object may be folded into the archiving process.

olScreen Shot 2014-02-19 at 10.05.11 AM

 

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The Open House prototype of Object Lens used an iPhone for the brainpower behind recording video and audio; the SXSW iteration will be powered by a Raspberry Pi, which I’m putting together to hook up to a redesigned and rebuilt device that Carmine and Kate are working on. This is my first real Raspi project, and the process has been much more about learning what is out there than it has been coding and wiring.

Raspberry Pi is a single board computer that costs $35 and is about the size of a smart phone. There are a number of microprocessor options out there (see herehere, and this chart for a solid comparison). I chose to use a Raspberry Pi because it excels at graphics processing and has a very active community — we’d like all of the LTK projects to be as fork-able* as possible, so having available community and resources was an important factor. All of the above platforms have a number of ports (HDMI, ethernet, USB, more), as well as all kinds of accessories you can plug in — motors, LCDs, GPS, motion sensors, to name just a few.

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After choosing the right platform, the setup itself was quite simple. The essential piece of hardware is the Raspberry Pi’s camera (which is a pretty competent little thing, check out some high altitude ballooning). My Pi is running Debian and uses the picamera Python library. The program basically just records 30 seconds of video at the press of a button, using single LEDs within the Object Lens field of view as a non-intrusive countdown display. And that’s about it! Next step is getting everything to fit safe and sound inside Object Lens V2.0.

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*Forking is actively used in the open-source community. When a developer finds a code base that they want to use as a starting point for their own project, they “fork” it, copying the code and starting a new branch. We’d like to foster the same sort of sharing and building-off one another’s work with LTK projects by making them as easy as possible to copy, riff, and remix. Check out Fork the Cookbook to see the same principle applied to recipes.

 

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