Level up

So here we are at the end of this four-month road. I’ve written several thousand words and spent many hours learning new things and expanding on previous knowledge. And as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve really come to appreciate the writing down part. Now I can scroll back through my posts and actually see an almost tangible trace of my work, reminders of my learning and an encouragement to continue blogging about new experiences, if only to remind me that they actually happen. Academic work can be so diffuse – I might have learned heaps about the history of women in England in the Late Middle Ages, but that’s not much of an everyday skill like sewing buttons or cooking a meal, so i have to consciously remind myself that I have gained that knowledge.

23 Things has certainly taught me to move more confidently in the digital world and to tackle new services or tools with curiosity and a more conscious critical eye. That can mean thinking about its accessibility, its privacy policy or its use to me before I follow the herd of other users.

This has also given me a new self-confidence, and especially the Google Hangout session comes to mind: Being a student among full time members of the work force was scar, but in hindsight led to an appreciation of where I am right now: My experience as a student was equally valid and interesting as anything everyone else was experiencing, even though in my mind they were “proper adults” and I wasn’t.

If you allow me a tangent: This has probably more than a little to do with language; since in Germany it would be really unusual to not refer to your teachers at any point in education in the polite form with their last name, while they generally use the personal form and your first name, at least up to further education level. So you already have a definitive difference in power between teachers and pupils, and the lack of that in English threw me strongly when I first came here, and I still occasionally struggle with how personal for example addressing an email ought to be. But in turn, since I left before university level in Germany, where the field evens out and students would also be addressed with the polite form, or before I was old enough that strangers would use it, I never got the full name treatment and always stayed on the lower step of the ladder.

Adding to this, as a postgrad student my eyes (and the questions of family and friends) are mostly on my future once I’ve graduated and become a “proper” (i.e. working) adult, perhaps neglecting that actually my view of life and specifically these 23 Things as a student is valid and important exactly because it is different.

The course has certainly pushed me to explore more professional territory and I hope I’ll be able to keep that up, because it is much less intimidating than I thought it might be. I wish I’d had more time to read the community blogs and see everyone else’s experiences, but I’m going to try and do that over the next few months, to keep the learning curve going.

The plan to use my momentum to also keep this up as a photography blog has maybe not worked as well as I’d have liked it to, but to be fair that was also due to me not taking a lot of pictures that I could upload. There are a few from my winter break that’ll eventually make it here, and I  might throw in some art and crafts too (after checking that I don’t lose all my rights to wordpress when I upload them… that would be unfortunate enough for the photos).

tl;dr: I gained 23 experience points and leveled up to a more confident, professional user of the digital world and I hope I’ll continue to see the fun in the challenges of work/life/the internet to come!

butterflies-small

Pictured: 23 Things finishers comfortable in their natural environment of tropical Internet (aka Botanic Gardens Munich)

 

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On the Finish Line

Right on we go to the last batch of Things! I’m looking forward to be looking back, and realising that this series of blogs is an excellent way of keeping track over achievements and learning outcomes that are usually abstract and untouchable and as such don’t give the same satisfaction as making a physical object. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Thing 21: Online Games and Learning

Having grown up in a generation and a household where online and offline games were always a big part of life, this is definitely a Thing for me. And I’m especially grateful that the National Museum of Scotland Games are on the list, because I vividly remember my mother visiting during their Vikings exhibition, when the museum had installed some terminals with their games, and how delighted and excited she was that this was a way of communicating knowledge here. This in contrast to the Deutsches Museum in Munich, according to Wikipedia the world’s largest museum of science and technology, which has stunning exhibits and many points for interaction – but hardly any of them digital. The one new addition to this is a tablet-based app for school classes that allows them to play educational games based around the exhibits, and I’m fairly sure I only know of it because my brother’s company developed it. It’s obvious that being able to power a wind turbine by hand is much more exciting and instructive than seeing a digital model do it, but many of the NMS games are more about getting kids (and adults, judging by the enthusiasm of both me and my mother playing them) excited about these topics, so that they’re then willing to learn about them the “traditional” way. They are also much more accessible than only for specific school tours, and Dolly the Atom Smasher being designed and coded through workshops is a great way of involving people in the making of games as well.

Anyway, I’ve played a variety of the NMS games for years, from the Viking Training School over Mammoth Hopping to the Gen Survival game, but this was an excellent excuse to check them out once again, build some wind turbines and a roundhouse. At the Nobel Prize end I learned some more about lasers – I really liked their system of getting you to answer multiple-choice questions about the topic for extra points and being able to access extra information in-game, without having to go to a new website; even though the controls were somewhat unusual and of course the player character was a male/female and blue/pink clothes choice (admittedly only upon change, the initial clothing was neutral for both).

All in all a big yes to games in and out of education, on paper and digitally. After all, even traditional Pen&Paper games like Dungeons and Dragons can have their impact, no matter their reputation for being only played by socially awkward nerds. They make learning exciting, allow you to visualise and come up with new questions, often encourage you to learn new skills from strategy to art to fine motor skills and provide an opportunity to learn about a topic in an environment where “failing” is not that big of a deal. I know that personally being a good high school student conditioned me to be terrified of giving wrong answers and kept me from daring to try new things, because being bad at something (as you inevitably are if you haven’t done them before) was such a scary prospect. So learning to overcome that, knowing that failing is okay and you’ll get better and better, is a really important thing to teach children, especially in today’s education systems which often don’t allow that room.

And of course this section couldn’t be without me actually recommending the game developed by my brother’s company, Shift Happens. It’s a cooperative puzzle platformer, which is currently out in early access but will have its full release this year. It’s excellent fun to play with friends but also challenging in single-player mode and has received a very respectable number of prizes, and I definitely recommend you at least download the free demo version to see if it’s something you enjoy.

Thing 22: Fun and Play

I don’t really feel comfortable putting my own face on video, but I most definitely have a collection of Vines to share that will beentertaining.

There’s the simple humor: Sunday Morning in Bavaria

And the cuteness: Dachshund Crusoe (youtube compilation)

And those that get a surprising amount of content into a mere six seconds: Deafinitely getting robbed

And because Thomas Sanders is impossible to keep off any top list of Vines: The Hero To the Rescue

I do like it for its restrictions, and, like twitter, that people have taken this as a challenge to create an art form that will fit into it, but aside from it getting shut down in about a week’s time I don’t have any video experience.

I’ve used Snapchat a wee bit, but a combination of a bad phone camera and knowing that my personal data is already on more places on the internet than is probably wise led me to neglecting it soon enough.

 

So no videos from me, but I’ll be back tomorrow with the last 23 Things post, reflecting on everything else!

Almost There

With the last few tasks of this series we’re getting into territory that I’m almost entirely unfamiliar with, and I’m excited for the challenge.

 

Thing 19: Altmetrics

As a student rather than fully-educated researcher and in a fairly obscure and past-bound area at that I had not come across Altmetrics, but it seems like a really fascinating idea. Reading up in it, I appreciate how easy it is to find out how a score is counted and that one is reminded that there is to distinction between positive and negative attention. The latter was one of the immediate shortcomings that popped into my head. Something I hadn’t thought about was the different sized of fields, as they mention that a high score for one journal paper might be just a low one for another. Which makes it not very surprising that when I tried a few articles none came up with any shares – it seems not too many people are interested in Fossil Folklore in the Liber Monstrorum, Beowulf, and Medieval ScholarshipI did note though that on the Taylor & Francis Online website I was accessing it through, Altmetrics for individual articles can be found in a Metrics tab together with citations etc., so I wouldn’t even have needed the bookmarklet.

So instead I went through the back door, found a website with medieval news and traced one of their bigger news stories back to a paper, about Early Medieval Muslim Graves in France. There’s certain to be more than a little connection to the current political state, but even so the article accrues a very decent score and makes it into the top 5% of all research output. Looking into the details of it, I have to admit that for example the twitter demographics are shiny, but the designation “scientist” for one group might make things complicated when talking about a field even deeper in the Humanities than Archaeology. I don’t know if an alternative like “scholar” would be more appropriate, but the lack of designated “scientists” and as such experts in a field might skew a result (not that a slightly differing total makes much of a difference,m  but it is a drawback). I also couldn’t find much information of who counts as a scientist on the Altmetrics website. Scrolling through twitter mentions, it would also be interesting to know if and how Altmetrics distinguishes between humans and bots in their score.

All in all, it seems like an interesting tool to see the spread of information, but mainly for topics that are either already relatively mainstream or relevant to current affairs; those that generally only attract scholarly attention tend to stay invisible to the public. Not that articles such as the highest ranking ones on Altmetrics are accessible beyond an abstract without payment, but naturally emotional manipulation through facebook will be more relevant and shareable than Beowulf. 

 

Fun Find: While looking for an interesting news story I came across this discovery of a medieval city in the Cambodian jungle, which could have been the capital of a large, until now unknown empire.

 

Thing 20: Professional Social Networks

LinkedIn and academia.edu were briefly mentioned in one of the examples of tracing one’s digital footprint months ago, but that was most of my contact with them. Knowing that I’m not aiming for a full-time academia/research career, I knew I’d only ever be using a platform like academia.edu or ResearchGate for reading and potentially networking rather than putting research out, and reading through the articles provided those are potentially not their strong points. So LinkedIn it is, although exploring the website and trying to see example pages to find out whether people in my field actually use the service enough for it to be of use to me turned out to be difficult without already opening an account.

I do think it will be a good network for me to join, if only as an exercise in how to build and maintain a personal brand, but that is a somewhat bigger (or just more long-term) project than 23 Things, and since it’s so late in the list (and I took a while to work my way through it) I’ll work on a personal reflection date in the future to see whether it has proven to be a useful tool, and blog about it if possible.

 

 

Speeding things up

Less than a week left to finish 23 Things and there’s still lots to go! So to welcome the new year with productivity, two more Things.

Thing 17: Geolocation Tools

As I’m currently ill in bed testing out geolocation tools is not very exciting, but I remember going geocaching with friends as a teenager, when smartphones weren’t a thing yet and GPS something exciting and inaccessible to me.

I didn’t realise it then, but now I find it striking that one of the first things humans did when they got this new technology is turn it into a game. And not only that, but a game that encourages people to go outside, move and explore, to learn about landmarks and their environment and through their Cache In Trash Out Initiative even encourages their users to make an environmental contribution. And all of that to basically give a stranger a small present, or even just a place in their logbook. That is quite the achievement.

It’s also a reminder that we are inherently creative and that learning through something that is considered playing is a really important avenue. It’s obviously not new, and with a brother who is a game designer, whose company mainly creates educational material, I’ve been exposed to that idea for a while. But it’s easy to forget sometimes when a lot of the discourse around (video) games that I find relates to their depiction of women, POC,  mental and physical health etc., and it’s refreshing to remember that our will to play also has its positive sides.

 

Thing 18: AR & VR

A couple weeks back Google Cardboard glasses were handed out on campus, but they’ve been sitting on my table unused until now! I’ve never been hugely excited about VR since a lot of it is tied to 3D and at least in movies I am so very tired of it. The one thing that seemed appealing was being able to create 3D artworks – but none of the apps I found that promised this seemed to actually work for me. And while pretty, just looking at landscapes or animals in VR wasn’t particularly exciting – the technology is still at a point where it’s not quite good enough to make me feel entirely immersed.

So I stuck to what I already knew: Augmented Reality like Pokemon Go, which I’ve been playing for months (though tend to keep the AR switched off to save battery). But to do something more exciting, I read some articles on different AR apps and settled on Star Chart (link for Android), which lets you explore the solar system and points out which stars are to be seen where – whether it’s night or day. This made it more appealing to me than google’s version, which can recognise stars and constellations in the sky when you point your phone camera at them, since living in a city and in Scotland means that it tends to be hard to see anything. And I do really enjoy it; you can either filter for specific celestial bodies, the different constellations have underlying illustrations that flare up when you point your phone at them, and it has a night look that darkens everything, keeping you from getting night blind when you’re using it at nighttime. I’ve only played with it a little, but I think I’ll be using it more from now on!

And lastly, a neat feature that I found during my research: The Google Translate app is able to translate text right on a paper, wall, sign or even screen for you if you point your camera at it.

translate

It’s obviously not a great translation and you need to know the language your text is in, but in a pinch on holidays or similar I can see this being of great use!

This AR version seems to only work on some languages, but with the option of taking a picture and even highlighting which bits you’re interested in, it happily translated some Japanese for me too.

Five more Things to go, let’s steamroll through them next time!

Between the years

After being busy largely eating my way through Christmas with my family, it is time to get back to work and share and learn some more things!

 

Thing 15 – Digital Curation

I’ve been using tumblr for almost exactly five years now and have seen it go through various stages of usability, and now as then there are many who condemn its lack of interactivity tools and ease of stealing, reposting and generally misappropriating content. Users can choose to add a source to their posts or link one manually, but there is no obligation, and especially artists have no way of stopping anyone distributing their work, even if it is explicitly stated where they choose to share their art. In that way tumblr really shows the disadvantages of the internet, where misinformation and unattributed work can travel fast and become impossible to keep in check.

All that said, I enjoy it as a platform where I can collect and curate content I enjoy, from art over fandom to tutorials and academic interest blogs. But neither of the two blogs I want to share are from my field.

The first is the NASA tumblr, which I appreciate for its wide variety of role models, bite-sized teaching and especially the reminder that humans are doing incredible things right now, making leaps in technology that improve our knowledge of Earth and Space and consistently improve our standards of living.

The second one is about a different kind of creativity: Eth’s Skin is a comic by Sfé Monster, set in British Columbia but populated by queer and genderqueer characters and fantastical creatures. Storytelling is such an important part of being human, and all people deserve to see themselves represented and acknowledged. All too often we only see a particular kind of character in the mainstream media, and I believe we must actively seek out and create content that is more inclusive, be it about race, gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical illness, disability, class, religion or the many other issues that all intersect and are admittedly often hard to navigate and keep in mind, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard them but rather train ourselves to become better.

 

Thing 16

Over the last few weeks of term I used OneNote for note-taking to then write about it; which is a few weeks back now but I really only got to use the basics in any case. It was very useful to keep all my notes in one place and be able to reference back to older seminars, rather than my usual way of sometimes taking notes in a Word document or google doc and sometimes in a physical notebook depending on whether I needed the laptop for looking up sources or images in class or not. On the downside it meant taking my laptop along to every single class, even when I didn’t need it for a source text or similar, and knowing myself I am more likely to get distracted with a screen in front of me than without. Problems also arose when I stopped being able to access Office 365 through Chrome for no apparent reason and so had to resort to a different browser, while all my other details are still saved in Chrome.

I’ll definitely continue using it in the new semester and also try scanning/photographing and uploading my older notes on paper to have all my notes in one place. It already has some neat abilities like adding notes, though I keep accidentally creating tables, and I’ll have to see how well drawn additions work with only a mousepad. We will see in the new year!

tree

Walking in the Murnauer Moos at the foot of the Alps this week

Video & Audio

Only three weeks to catch up on, and looking at where we are it’s strange to think that we’re more than halfway through!

Thing 13: Video

I chose to explore youtube, since it’s the one platform I personally use already to follow a few channels, but I have never really spent time exploring its features and functions.

I mentioned youtube’s accessibility possibilities and concerns for Thing 6 a couple weeks ago. but only now did I figure out that one can access a transcript directly below the video if it has been captioned. It is also supposedly possible to more or less navigate the entirety of youtube with keyboard shortcuts, including pausing, jumping forward and backward etc., although not all of them seem to be working for me (but I use a laptop with a German system, largely English-language programmes and Norwegian keyboard input so am not the most straightforward user). Still, knowing that pressing k will always pause the video is useful and definitely better than the space bar, which might randomly scroll down instead.

So much for accessibility – what about diversity? Everyone knows that youtube comments are a cesspit of abuse against pretty much everyone, but it seems that youtube itself maybe isn’t doing all it could to promote racial diversity. On the other hand, it is a place where conventions can be disregarded, like youtuber James Charles, who made headlines last month for becoming the first male CoverGirl and who is a role model for all those who think that makeup doesn’t have to be only for girls. The social impact of youtube article on wikipedia is also a fascinating journey into how important it is that youtube is as diverse as possible, as it can have real large-scale impacts. Make sure to also read the talk page for discussions around the validity of the topic and potential shortcomings and problems with the article.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so back to functionality. It’s easy to create playlists, although you do have to create your own channel to do it, and as such I don’t know if there’s any possibility of making playlists private or only accessible to a particular audience.

Licensing information is easy to find, and in the same space there is the option to add collaborators, which is nifty. Being German, I’ve naturally had a crash course in youtube copyright as most music on youtube was unavailable to youtube users in Germany for the last 6-7 years due to a copyright dispute that was only (and only partially) laid to rest a week ago. Youtube being a very popular platform, and for many a convenient way to play music, especially before the rise of Spotify and similar services, and those songs not only appearing in the form of official music videos but also as soundtracks to original videos (legality often questionable), it was a massive topic in Germany.

All in all, no big surprises, so I will instead add a list of some of my favourite youtube channels (largely educational):

The Brain Scoop – all kinds of science from the Natural History Museum in Chicago, from meteorites over cancerous squirrels to fieldtrips in the Amazonian rainforest.

Crash Course – Collecting excellently produced educational series, starting with World History and by now having expanded into both science and humanities.

The Art Assignment – Modern artists talk about their work, create a challenge for viewers and complete it themselves.

Vi Hart – Nobody explains Maths better.

And last but not least:

Hydraulic Press Channel – things being crushed in a hydraulic press. Oddly charming.

 

Things 14: Audio

I’m not a big listener to podcasts since I usually need some other form of stimulation, but when doing other things on the side get easily distracted and stop following. But recently I’ve been getting into some D&D shows that function well as background noise to making art, and so my listening abilities have been getting better. Still, my recommendations come with a warning that I haven’t listened to too much of them all and cannot vouch for all of their quality.

First of all, This American Life has been recommended to me over and over, but I’ve only made it through a couple episodes, since it requires quite attentive listening. It is incredibly varied, talking about all kinds of things American – and while even us non-US folks live in a world that already is quite centred around it, this gives a more realistic view of life. It reminds me of how vast the USA is, and to see the individuals in it rather than a single people.

BlackandBritish, a collection of BBC programmes running throughout this November, is close to my historian heart. Too many people believe that people of colour in Britain are some sort of Victorian or modern invention, and they didn’t exist here before, and even when they came it was as slaves and servants. Such a perceived history makes it different for black people today as well, not just for those fighting for historical accuracy in films, tv series and books, meaning actual representation. the first episode of Black and British: A Forgotten History specifically talks about Black people in Britain as early as the Roman Empire (and that’s only the oldest written records we have of them, not necessarily the very first appearance of them).

Finally, something that is actually relevant to my degree: Medieval Death Trip. Like every Medieval scholar knows, medieval texts are full of strange little anecdotes and trivia about life, and this podcast not only teaches about those, but also how they inform modern traditions that we view as completely normal. In that way, it’s encouraging you to think about why we live as we live and to make decisions more consciously of their historical impact.

So, all in all, I think what I gain from podcasts is the ability to “imagine others complexly“, like author John Green put it (the article talks about it specifically in terms of Wikipedia, but that seemed the most appropriate explanation for an academic circumstance), as well as myself. To become better at not making assumptions about people, and knowing where these assumptions come from. On other words, expanding my bubble, as is currently so much talked about. Although all of the ones here are still very much for a Western, educated, Middle Class audience.

Somewhat less philosophically, it is also a tool to find out about topics other academics are interested in and that might interest me, learn about topics that I would otherwise never have known about, and get an insight into other scholars’ methodology.

All in all, a pretty good deal.

And for pure pleasure (or sometimes enjoyable discomfort, Welcome To Night Vale is a twice-monthly fiction podcast in form of a radio show that manages to be diverse even in audio form, is surreal and occasionally horrific but always enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

Return to 23 Things

With Samhuinn behind us, life is slowly returning to its regular format ( with a hint of regret). And while more photography and personal posts are in the works, I am woefully behind on the 23 Things blogging – and I’ve genuinely been missing the steady weekly learning, so it’s good to be back on the road.

 

Thing 11: Copyright

Through previous work I had an idea of Creative Commons licences, but learned here about the university’s CLA and the potentially fuzzy borders of it.

As one of my last seminars focused on the story of Tristan and Isolde (specifically the German version by Gottfried von Strassburg from the early 13th century) I thought I’d pick images relating to that. And because we specifically mentioned the difference between the Middle Ages and the Middle Ages imaged in the 19th and early 20th century, I chose one image from either time.

The first is a late 14th century wall hanging with scenes from the legend. It is currently held in the V&A Museum in London, and thanks to their extensive and stunning online catalogue accessible to everyone with an internet connection. Interestingly, rather than providing me with a sentence on “you can download this under this (CC) licence”, I instead got presented with a checklist of restrictions, which I find to be a clever way to make sure people know the terms of use.

licence

And here is the actual wall hanging. Since I can’t display it here at full resolution, I highly recommend downloading it yourself to be able to see the details:

tristanwall

Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

 

Contrast it with a painting from 1916, created by John William Waterhouse, which I found on Wikimedia Commons:

tristan

John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikipedia Commons

It seems almost like cheating though to chose a work that is in the public domain (except for Mexico). However, thinking back to learning about and editing Wikipedia, tagging an image correctly when uploading it has its own pitfalls: While Wikimedia Commons specifies that I have to add a “public domain in the US” tag, it doesn’t tell me about similar British requirements, something that only comes up after some digging in the domain tag articles. Not that there seems to be a specific tag for British public domain images if they’re not government-created. So even this seemingly simple public domain image has some tricky thoughts behind it.

I thought it was interesting to see that the V&A seemed largely concerned with restricting the amount (and size) of distribution, but less so how it might be edited and adapted, which seems to be one of the main concerns of the Creative Commons licences. I’ve used a variety of different types of media under a Creative Commons licence, so it was interesting to explore the other avenues.

 

Thing 12: OER

I’ve really only learned about OERs in the last few months and never really had a chance to browse the university’s collection, so this is an opportunity I’ve been excited for for a while.

Just opening the website I was happy to see Ada Lovelace pop up fairly large in the tag cloud – hopefully Ada Lovelace Day a few weeks ago contributed to that! And then I descended into a blissful period of learning about a whole variety of things. Here are some of my favourites:

Scrolls and the Early Codex – Centre for the History of the Book

Book Bindings – Centre for the History of the Book (including a fantastic embroidered binding!)

3D Skeletons and Skulls -RDSVS

Centre For Research Collections Flickr, which includes this gem:

salvesen

Sea Elephant, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via flickr

 

Back to business

After a brief excursion to sunny Norwegian summer days it’s back to grey October Edinburgh, and more Digital Knowledge.

 

Thing 9: Google Hangouts

I’ve seen google hangouts being used for live broadcasts, but almost never caught one live, and certainly not actively participated in one. So I went into the hangout on Friday morning with very little experience and a lot of curiosity.

It certainly seems like a good tool for small seminar groups, especially when not everyone is in the same place. At least for me however the quality became rather patchy at more than half a dozen participants, which could have been a particular problem for us but would definitely make it difficult if understanding was more necessary than in our informal chat. Hangouts is touted as being great for recording conferences etc., but that presumably uses the live broadcast tool rather than adding whoever is interested into the chat, or else it could become quite a messy experience.

I also personally had the problem that for some inexplicable reason (even trying my own hangouts after and working through the help sheets) I couldn’t access the full functionality such as file or image sharing, which definitely took away from its usability.

However, aside from technical difficulties, I really enjoyed the conversation that was had. I had a variety of anxieties about a video chat being much more stressful and uncontrollable than a simple conversation through text as well as my not being used to talking with professionals as an equal learner rather than being in a teacher/student relationship, but it all worked out well, and some important points were being brought up. Especially interesting to my mind was talking about how we announce that people who do not want their face/and or voice to be shown can certainly opt out of that, but that we don’t necessarily have a plan how to still make sessions accessible to them. Thankfully Google Hangouts can be accessed without a “real” name and has the chat function, so people can be entirely anonymous and still participate.

 

Thing 10: Wikimedia

I was lucky enough to be introduced to Wikipedia editing and by extension Wikimedia through a Editathon at the university in the spring. I didn’t actually end up making any edits of my own, since it was Women in Medicine themed and it took me all afternoon to just get acquainted enough with the subject matter so far from my usual studies, but even as that it was a great experience.

This did mean that the Wikipedia adventure was new to me though! And a really fun way of playfully learning the basics, getting lots of rewards that were motivating (at least for me), and the two things that seemed most important to me: Seeing it as a community that works together, as well as allowing and even encouraging failing. It is so important to teach people that in all situations of life failure is not necessarily terrible and makes you a lesser person or gives you penalties (which is why I love the nigh penalty-less death in World of Warcraft, it lets you take risks and feel more confidence and enjoyment in how you play because you’re not constantly worried about the penalties should you die. But I digress). Especially in a context where several people are working together on the same topic, some of my contributions might turn out to be not the best and not the chosen ones, but if I get chastised for bringing sub-par contributions to the table I am so much less likely to try again. However if it is honestly and civilly explained to me why these weren’t chosen and how I could improve, I will (probably) put in my best and hopefully  better effort next time.

Now that I have the knowhow I’m hoping I get to join in one of the upcoming Editathons to actually get the editing in. I told myself I could do it on my own time but unsurprisingly this hasn’t happened, and these events are always such a lovely way to socialise, be able to ask questions and be offered opportunities to help that correspond to a variety of skill levels, which I as a beginner really appreciate. Sometimes it’s just safer to “only” do some formatting, add images etc., and it still makes it feel like a valid contribution.

Looking through the list of Wikimedia Projects I have used more than I thought but still only knew about half of them. Those that I have used have always proven to be valuable resources, from learning random pointless information during hours of clicking through interesting articles over utilising it as a starting point for a new research project to finding travel information. It’s fantastic to see a community that is so keen to bring information of so many kinds to as many people as possible, and that makes me excited to be a part of it.

 

This blog is likely to take a little break over the next two weeks (assignments & Samhuinn are calling), hence why I caught up as much as possible before other things will intervene, but I’m already excited for the second half of 23 Things!

 

Working our way along

I took a hit from the first real taste of autumn last week, but now the heating is on, everything is gloriously warm, there is soup and tea and duvets and so I’m back on track.

 

Before we jump into Things 7 & 8, I had another thought on Accessibility from last time around, which is how we hail new technology and digital learning as amazing and making it more accessible – when mediums like film or audio recordings of lectures can actually make things less accessible.

That problem obviously also exists outside of academia – I remember getting very excited about a German educational video and trying to find a way to give it English subtitles so I could show my friends. As far as I can discern, youtube has no actual way of officially submitting subtitles, instead one has to presumably work with the individual video creators themselves. Which works for some accounts but won’t for others and is a general barrier. Of course you don’t want every random troll adding captions or subtitles which will show up unchecked, but a service by youtube to look over subtitles would go a long way (also for working against the stories I have heard about jokingly captioned videos – think Monty Python’s moose joke – which can make the actual video totally not understandable to those requiring captions).

So I did a little digging and there is an excellent initiative to caption videos organised by Rikki Poyter under the hashtags #LIGHTSCAMERACAPTION and #NoMoreCraptions. She has some good videos about how to make video more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Right, on to the meat of things after that tangent!

 

Thing 7: Twitter

I only started using Twitter this spring, both in a personal and a professional capacity. For the latter I became familiar with analytics, while my personal account is not really big enough to have much of an impact, though it’s interesting to see how using popular hashtags – like #23Things! – make a huge difference in how many people see it. I’m happy to tweet to my handful of followers, but it does make you think twice when a single hashtag suddenly means several hundred people read your ramblings.

My internship this summer used Hootsuite for managing their social media accounts, so I got some experience in organising tweets, but really the first time I wish I did it for my personal account turned out to be the 23 Things twitter conversation! I felt like I was missing parts of the conversation, following the hashtag directly on twitter was awkward and my own feed cluttered with other tweets that weren’t relevant – so I shall be trying tweetdeck, see how that goes, and possibly report back later.

In general, I was surprised to see how good a tool twitter is to find opportunities from organisations, get ideas and inspirations both for hobbies and more professional pursuits and just to have conversation. I swerved a little bit, unsure of how personal or professional I ought to present myself, so the Guardian article linked this week (though specific to job hunting) really helped solidify my feelings on that.

 

Facebook

While I’ve only been using facebook since coming to university I’ve had a shorter run with it than most people, but I think I still have a pretty good grip on its functionalities. I got my lists down to post only to specific people, keep an eye on my privacy settings – so I will count myself as an Intermediate user and talk about Groups.

Now, I’m definitely less excited about groups than Eric Ravenscraft. Maybe it’s because I’m generally a rather passive user and like to organise things in group chats (or am lucky enough to see people fairly regularly in person). Which can be incredibly annoying on facebook, seeing that if you start a conversation with a group of people that you have previously had a conversation with, it will still begin a new thread, clogging up the messages tab and making information hard to find. So maybe I should give the groups a try. But really, they’re useful for keeping tabs on a specific group of people, for organising, and for local selling and buying, but personally I don’t enjoy interest groups. Since I use facebook more for personal things and not for experiencing content (I know friends who follow many artists etc. and so have a much broader news feed) and a tumblr account for art, fandom and hobbies. A main reason for this is that I’m simply annoyed by getting lots of notifications if there is an active discussions, but if I switch off notifications chances are high I will forget that the group exists. So I am a quiet lurker in some groups, but am happy to leave it up to facebook’s (questionable) algorithm to show me glimpses of them only occasionally.

 

A short one for this round, if I’m lucky I’ll get Things 9 and 10 in this week before Samhuinn and university assignments (not necessarily in that order) will require more time and I’m likely to take a wee break on these blogs, or upload some of the overdue travelogs/image posts instead.

 

Things 5 & 6

 

Diversity

I was really excited for Week 3, Diversity and Accessibility. As a white European, cis, Middle Class, able-bodied straight presenting woman I’m pretty high up the privilege list, and because of that I can afford to not always think about these things. So I wanted to tackle this as a active recognising of privilege and opportunity to work on my shortcomings. And absolute disclaimer: I will never know what I’m talking about as well as any person of colour and should not be taken as any kind of authority.

The first thing I realised was that two out of three of the articles to read that week were written by POC, both of which focused on race, while the third, written by a white woman, focused on gender representation (but mentioned race). So yay for diversity!

Reading these was hard. On the one hand it’s of course extremely important to have the voices that are discriminated against voiced most loudly: Here, the voices of POC about skin colour in emojis. On the other hand it’s equally important to remember that these are individuals, and turning them into spokespeople (“every black woman thinks emojis are racist because one of them said so”) is also in a way reducing them to their race.

Being white means I am the default. I don’t have to think about race and ethnicity and skin colour. It’s a luxury people of colour don’t necessarily have in their life, and to take away that little bit of being neutral, of not being immediately judged, is definitely not a step forward. It reminded me of the way that many female players will stay silent when playing MMORPGS – it’s a way of protecting yourself, to pretend you’re the “default” white and/or male, as anything else often leads to harassment or worse.

It would be interesting to hear an Asian perspective on this as well, and to see if the “neutral” yellow emoji evokes notions of yellowface or similar racist practices, since that would make the use of it equally awful.

So racially defined emoji – no. Bitmoji then?

Immediately going into the avatar creator, I was greeted by the usual male/female binary. Not a great start. So I went through both, just to see what the differences would be.

The usual distinctions were made – facial hair for men, make-up for women. A nice touch though: The build category features a more masculine “wide shoulders narrow hips” option for women, and vice versa for the men. Neither has any sort of realistic overweight build, which is a shame. They also share some, though not all, hair styles, so it is possible to create a non traditionally feminine or masculine presenting avatar once you get past the beginning, but really in that case, why make the distinction? Why not have all options for everyone, and you can just skip what you won’t want? I also don’t particularly appreciate the addition of non-natural skin colours like blue or green – it shows (to me as a white person) that skin colour really isn’t all that important and we can play with it, while people of colour are literally being killed for the shade of their skin. Unsurprisingly, white skin is what you start off with -why not start with darker? White people have enough things that are easier in life, they’ll survive an extra click to get the skin shade they want. There’s also no possibility to change eye shape at all or lip and nose shape by much, effectively imposing white standards onto everyone. As Tutt puts it, “bastardized emoji blackface“.

bitmoji

Testing results for male and female models with my features (aided by my short hair and not usually wearing make-up)

In contrast to Apple emoji, which can be used like a shorthand to express emotions or actions quickly and succinctly, Bitmoji seem to me to be more of a celebration and identification of self. As Smith mentioned in their article, the Bitmoji is experienced to be slightly apart from oneself and so maybe is also removed from all the negative connotations of social markers like race and less visible ones like gender etc.

Speaking of gender: I think it’s very different to introduce different skin colours from a non-existent and as such neutral emojis and to introduce female emojis where male ones have dominated. Male people do exist, and so it was actively excluding people who are not male. Of course it would be most useful to have entirely non-gendered/customisable emojis, so the bitmoji idea of inserting yourself into your scene of choice seems like a good step in that direction – although they themselves are not as diverse as they could be.

 

Accessibility

So much for diversity – there are so many facets to it that there is always more to write about, and I gotta get on to the next Thing eventually.

I know that accessibility is an issue, but wasn’t quite sure how to tackle it, so the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool is a fantastic resource. However, I found that I couldn’t find the one error it flagged, and while exploring the website occasionally stumbled into error messages that required reloading the page.

Additionally, it seems that many of the alerts it flags are built in by wordpress so I will see if there is a more user-friendly blog layout available.

Just for fun, I also put through a website made as a project in secondary school that was fully programmed by a group of us. We learned a little bit of HTML and CSS for it, but accessibility wasn’t much of a concern at the time. Interestingly enough, the main issue is having no alternative texts – something I’ve been trying to get better at for this blog, though with the large amount of photos I don’t always do it.

Reading through the case studies of disabled people accessing the internet, what stood out to me most was that while I’m aware of sight impaired folks needing assistance (and me trying to provide it), that there’s many more reasons to not be able to navigate as easily as an able-bodied person. These are the ones I need to educate myself on more, and be able to make space and include them.

I seem to have powered myself out getting riled up about diversity, so I shall leave it at that. Week 4 (and maybe 5) soon!