Friday, February 24, 2012

The Wonderboy - Deconstructed

Last week, in my Interactive Exhibit Design course, we had a chance to play with Google SketchUp.  Of all the programs we have used so far, I found this the easiest to learn.  Not only is the program user-friendly, but Google provides some excellent tutorials for beginners and advanced users.  I used my class time to go though a Museum Exhibit Mockup Prof. Turkel provided.  I was going to include the one I made in class on my blog, but after looking at what Lindsay had done with her Immigrant's Suitcase, I knew I had to step-up my game a bit.

Some of you may remember my original idea for a "history appliance" - Wonderboy, the interactive baseball bat.  I used SketchUp to visualize how this exhibit might be set up in a museum.

*Bonus point to anyone who can figure out which famous home run is depicted in the projected images.
If you recall from my original idea, this exhibit allows you to experience what it would be like to hit a record-breaking home run.  Speakers in the batters helmet provide audio of the announcers and the roar of the crowd, while the images from the projectors put you on the field.

Using what I have learned so far in the class, brainstorming with my professor Bill, and some online research - I'm trying to figure out a way to make this mockup materialize.  I've decided to start with focusing on the batting helmet.  Since I want to be able to accomplish this with as few things wired together as possible, I would like to put most of the hardware in the helmet.

Starting with the Arduino which I've worked with before, I've been researching using a wave shield for the audio in the helmet.  The audio of the different home run calls can be loaded onto an SD card and put into the wave shield.  I can plug in regular headphones and plant one in each ear guard of the helmet.  I'm not 100% sure how I'm going to wire all these parts into the helmet yet, as I'm still working on getting one to hack, but I figure worst case scenario I can stick it all on top.  (At least while I'm working everything out!)

Next, I have been trying to figure out how to trigger the audio.  Originally, I was thinking that there would be something inside the bat that would sense the way a person was swinging and that would start the audio.  I also thought about the possibility of using a motion sensing input device like a Kenect (but I don't have one of those to play with!)  So I took the idea of the motion sensor, but on a much smaller scale.  As I was researching the wave shield I came across this tutorial to make a Halloween pumpkin:  

I started look a little more into motion sensors as input devices.  I thought if I could find one that had a narrow range and put it into the bill of the batting helmet, facing down, then it would sense when the batter moved their arms and the bat, but not wider movements in the periphery.  I found this High Performance Ultrasonic Rangefinder (cool name, right?)  I don't know enough about this technology to be sure that it would be sensitive enough to catch the arm swing, but not surrounding movements.  I'll have to look into it a bit more.

Add a battery pack to this set-up and all the hardware would be right on the helmet.  (I'm starting to think with all the cool stuff happening in the helmet, perhaps I should name my project something other than Wonderboy...but I don't know of any cool batting helmet names...)  I just need to gather a few more parts and start playing around!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Look out Milwaukee - Here We Come!

What could be a better way to end the school year than with a road trip with two of your best grad school buddies?  I'll tell you what: make that trip extra nerdy with your destination - Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the National Council on Public History/Organization of American Historians 2012 Annual Conference!

I have wanted to attend a NCPH conference for a few years now, but either the timing didn't work out or the travel costs were prohibitive.  I mentioned my interest to the director of the Public History program at UWO, and she suggested I consider presenting at the conference.  Then I would be eligible for funding to help off-set travel costs.

So I brought the idea to the other members of my small group for our 1812 project, Adriana and Laura.  They were in!  We put together a proposal for a poster presentation about our research for the War of 1812 commemorative smartphone app, and it was accepted!  (You can see how famous we are now on page 80 of the conference program.)

Once we were accepted, and started making plans for the trip, we realized how many amazing opportunities there are for graduate students at a conference like this.  First, everyone knows that as students our budgets are tight, so there are a lot of ways to save money on the trip.  We can join NCPH and OAH at the discounted student rate, we signed up for a volunteer shift at the conference so our registration fee will be waved, and there is a women in the historical profession luncheon which offered limited complimentary tickets for grad students on a first come, first serve basis.  We were able to sign up for those as well.  It also helps that the three of us traveling together will split gas and hotel for the trip.

There are also several sessions, tours, and activities geared toward students to help us get the most out of the conference (there's actually a whole section of the program for grad students.)  All three of us have signed up for the mentor program, which will put us in touch with a conference veteran to help us learn the ropes and get us started meeting new people.  We're also attending a breakfast for first-time conference attendees.  There is a speed-networking session, where we will have the opportunity to experts in fields such as museums, historic sites, historic preservation, and independent consulting. And of course we signed up for the Riverwest: An Exploration of Milwaukee's Tavern Culture for Grad Students Bus Tour!

Our hotel is booked, and we're all registered, so now Laura, Adriana, and I are just counting the days!  You can bet there will be future posts about my first professional conference experience!

Oh, and if you are interested, here is the abstract for our poster session:

Putting History in the Palm of Your Hand: War of 1812 Historical & Commemorative Smart Phone Application
A waterfront park, an empty field, and an unassuming cemetery - what do these have in common?  All are important historical sites in South Western Ontario, though few recognized their significance.  Often, locations such as these have little more than a plaque to commemorate the the events that took place, but that does not diminish their historical value.  Anniversaries offer perfect opportunities to connect the public to local history.  The upcoming bicentennial of the War of 1812 has been a catalyst for national commemorations in Canada.  To engage visitors at these Ontario sites, Public History graduate students at the University of Western Ontario are researching and developing a GPS-guided smart phone application.  This project will document, commemorate, and promote the important regional sites connected with the War of 1812.  The tour will follow the retreat of British Major-General Henry Proctor his First Nations allies led by Tecumseh, beginning at Fort Malden in Amherstburg and ending with the battle of the Themes just outside of Moravaintown.  By making use of contemporary digital technology, the smart phone application will provide visitors with a multisensory, educational, and entertaining experience.  For this project, the students partnered with the War of 1812 South Western Ontario Region established by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture, as well as the Tecumseh Parkway Committee.  Collaborations such as this make it possible to provide a compelling and cohesive visitor experience.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Arduino, and Processing, and Inkscape, Oh My!

Have you ever spent so much time thinking about something that you dream about it?  That is what has happened to me.  I spend so much of my "down time" thinking about interactive exhibit design (and how I should be blogging about it more often) that it has started to invade my subconscious.  The other night I dreamed about sitting in my interactive exhibit design class with all my public history cohorts.  They all knew what they were doing, and how they were doing it, but I was completely lost.  I was frustrated and disappointed, but then Joey Fatone showed up and told me to "Keep at it!"  (Why Joey Fatone - I have no idea.  I guess I need to stop watching Rachel vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook Off before I go to bed.)

"You can do it!"

Subconscious or not, it was good advice (and clearly motivated me to finally get back to blogging.)  So more of my weekends have been devoted to playing around with the programs we are learning about in class.  In my first Arduino post, I talked about how Adriana and I figured out how to turn lights on and off.  In our next class, we had the chance to play around with different inputs or sensors.  Using a potentiometer as an analog input we were able to control the speed at which our light blinked.

Next, we learned the Processing computer language.  This is an open source programming language for creating images, animations, and interactions.  Using this Adriana and I drew (and colored) some images and simple animations.

We started to draw this alien guy a friend
but ran out of time!

Our next class had us playing around with vector representations using an open source program called Inkscape.  We worked through some tutorials, and played around with different drawings.  Over the weekend I worked on recreating this guy:

It was snowing this weekend
so I made a snowman!

You may have noticed that all of the programs we have worked with so far are open source, so that makes them very cost effective to use.  Even the hardware associated with the Arduino isn't terribly expensive.  This becomes important when you think about developing exhibits for non-profit organizations with limited resources.

So how does this all relate to my baseball exhibit idea?  Well, I'm still doing a little research on that, but there will be another post soon to talk about my progress there.  In the meantime, you can check out some of the projects my friends are working on: Lindsay and Adriana's Immigrant Suitcase, Laura and Sushima's Lego Hollywood Squares, Adrian's Talking Money, Michael's 1812 Twitter project, Hilary's Ninja Historian animated short, and though I'm not sure what her class project is Sarah is doing some really cool stuff on her blog!