Dealing with Design

April 1, 2007

We're hit, Skipper!The next hurdle for the intrepid students of the HI697 class is the Design Assignment.  After being damned with faint (if any) praise on the Image Assignment, I feel like I need to come up with a major save to salvage any sort of a grade out of this class.  In keeping with the rest of this course, our design assignments have to show our abilities in information architecture, aesthetics and scholarship.  While being ostensibly the least important of the three, aesthetics ends up taking the most time and receiving the most emphasis.  We are to “recreate a historical period through color, font and other attributes of design.”  My period is December 7th 1941, my setting is Hawaii and my event is the Pearl harbor attack.  Accordingly, I’ve found and downloaded a font called 1942 Report.  I’ve redone my banner / masthead to include the profile of Diamond Head and a washed out Japanese flag behind it.  I’ve revised my color scheme to use the Kam Zero’s original color, but I still have a lot of work to do.  My laundry list includes trying to find some menu “buttons” that reflect the period (good luck with that one), changing the main content font to look more 40-ish, and oh yeah trying to develop an architecture that presents the information logically and compellingly.  In that respect, I’ve been playing with the project information in other sites for a while and I know what I want to do…now it’s simply a matter of ramming that intent through the Dreamweaver barrier in the fast-dwindling time remaining in the semester.

Colorization Exercise

March 12, 2007

Original ShieldAs part of further efforts to complete my image assignment, I’ve combined hand-coloring with a matted engraving.  The picture here is a scanned image of the coat of arms for Fort Kamehameha.  The original black and white image was xeroxed from a book and then faxed, so I scanned that image into a jpeg and colorized it in accordance with the description that was in the book.  I used HTML definitions for silver and gold (which show up as light grey and yellow-orange).  The background color is from the fragment of the Kam Zero shown in the March 5th entry, which I sampled in photoshop and then copied to the image here.

Colorized ShieldBefore colorizing the shield, I adjusted the whites and blacks to make the light grey background on the original go away.  I would like to make the black outline more definite, because thin lines tend to disapper when the picture size is reduced.  The larger originals look a lot better.  The final step will be to add the motto “Defender of the Pacific Pearls.”  I did this once before using PowerPoint word art (which allows me to curve the words to fit the scroll), but I’m not sure I can do the same in Photoshop.

Different Images

March 8, 2007

Original

The best laid plans of mice, men and HI697 student gang aft agly, so the best one can do is be flexible.  In my last entry, I posted the images I intended to work with for the image assignment and wrote about what I planned to do with them.  Unfortunately, the Zero picture in the banner proved to be a challenging subject for colorizing, since it was a very grainy image and much of the detail in the fuselage was hidden.  I opted to try another Kam Zero image for restoration.  This original (above) was posted on a personal website by the family of William Vigus, a soldier at Fort Kam on December 7th 1941.  The picture was one he took after the attack, and as you can see it was not in good condition with some harsh tonals and a tear down the middle.  I liked this photo because it was taken from a wider angle than some of the others and shows some of the wreckage still stuck in the palm tree, so I took a stab at enhancing it.  First I used levels to set the image tone, and set the blacks and whites using the procedures outlined in Eismann Chapter 2.  I used gaussian blurring to offset the graininess and polished it off by removing the tear with the clone tool.  The result is seen below.

Enhanced

Image Assignment Musings

March 5, 2007

Kam Zero FragmentWell, if I didn’t exactly slay the first two assignment dragons I at least forced them to vacate the battlefield for a while.  Now I face the next assignment, which is to colorize, distort and otherwise improve digital images using Photoshop.  It’s going to be a bit of a stretch to find an image associated with my dissertation that requires restoration, since photographs from the early 40’s are generally clear due to the use of exceptionally large (by modern standards) frames.  What I’ve elected to do is to colorize one of the black and white pictures from the Kam Zero site.  I’m going to do this because if you ask any casual historian of the Pacific War what color a Japanese naval Zero was, chances are he will say light grey.  That’s how they look in black and white photographs, and the Kam Zero is no exception.  But fortunately, some fragments of the Kam Zero still survive in various places, and color photographs of them appear on the web.  The Kam Zero wasn’t grey, it was a sort of brownish green, the color shown in the upper left corner.

Three MusketeersFor the other parts of the assignment, I’m going to work on a portrait associated with one of my minor areas in applied history.  In my field statement I’m going to propose the editing of a diary kept by a WWI flier by the name of John MacGavock Grider.  After he was killed on June 18, 1918, Grider’s friend Elliot White Springs combined the diary with letters and Springs’ own diary into a book called “War Bird – Diary of an Unknown Aviator.”  The story behind the diaries and the book is an entry unto itself, but I do have a good portrait to mess around with.  This photo is of (from left to right) Grider, Springs, and Laurence Callahan.  They are all in different uniforms, because Grider (and Callahan I think) were actually volunteers in the Royal Air Force while Springs ended up in the US Army Air Corps.  So I will have to do some color matching using some sites that document WWI uniforms.  My guess is that the RAF uniforms are brown and tan, while the US uniform is dark green.

Etta James…and life is like a song.  While I did successfully upload my first two assignments, my type assignment was most definitely a placeholder until I could get something suitable put together.  After Tuesday’s class I was more than a little disheartened, since most of my classmates presented very mature and sophisticated sites.  Now it’s true that most of these sites had been the beneficiaries of much more attention than mine, but fortunately I didn’t have to present my site due to lack of time.  I’ve been crashing on the site for the past two days and have something decent put together.  It’s even W3C compliant.

The lesson learned here is a hard one to figure.  It’s true that HI697 is not a one-dimensional class.  In addition to learning the mechanics of HTML the course also has to be about design (which is REAL hard when you haven’t learned the mechanics yet) and also about information architecture.  All this and we haven’t even talked about content.  It would have helped a lot if I had come into the class already having a domain (which those of us who took Clio last semester did not have), but better late than never.  I feel like a hound dog trying to jump up on the back of a moving pickup truck, but at least I got aboard.  It remains to be seen whether I can hang on.

Week 4 and Success at hand

February 20, 2007

As evidenced by the new links on the Blogroll, I finally managed to get my assignments posted on a website.  This operation was much more complicated than I thought it would be, and my experiences could serve as a sort of object lesson for how to do this.  The main thrust of the story is that to complete the assignments one needs to execute basically three separate operations, and the class material covers only one of them.  The operations are:

  1. Obtaining a domain or a site
  2. Creating and editing the files you want to post
  3. Transferring those files to the site

Though Step 2 has been covered and practiced in class, Steps 1 and 3 are another story.  I originally hoped to obtain a site through my ISP (Verizon) , who advertised the website capabilities I would need like uploading and HTML editing.  After a two weeks of trying on the computer and eventually the phone I finally determined that Verizon no longer features those capabilities and currently are busy purging their sites of any remaining references to them.  After rooting and asking around about alternatives, I applied for space through GMU, and though they advertised a 3-5 day wait I had my site in a day.  I had originally intended to use Ipswitch to transfer files to my ISP site, but I found that I had to use a secure service to do this on the Mason cluster.  I downloaded this last night and after a couple of false starts was able to upload my material.

There was probably a lot of ancillary discussion on steps 1 and 3 during both this class and last semester’s Clio Wired class, but I would have saved a lot of time and effort if there had been something like a “gouge sheet” regarding the sequence of things that need to be done before one can post.

PolyglotSince missing class this past week, I’ve been playing catchup both on the last assignment and this week’s readings.  The whole concepts of CSS now seems pretty simple – a style sheet is simply a separate file that a site links to for format rather than having the format syntax included in the site coding.
I’m not a real fan of Bickner’s style – there’s too much storytelling and belaboring of how quaint past efforts like presentational markup pages were.  We start to get to what I used to call “the gouge” (useful information) on page 160.  The CSS construction guide is helpful – it broke the code on typography, though I still have questions about the “justify” function referred to on page 180.  What sort of justify – left, right or center?  Looking at the example, my guess is that it means center.   Also, I was able to  break part of the code on validating, by using file upload.  I ran through the validation routine for last week’s assignment and got back two errors which I corrected.  Now I’m valid – still late, but at least valid.  I still don’t know how to upload an edited page to a server though.  As for the site visits, the tutorial sites look like they will be really useful later – I just hope I can remember that they are there.

As for the Polyglot Manifesto, it recalled some of the discussion we had last semester (which continues into this semester’s colloquium) regarding what it is to be a historian.  I have to admit that while I don’t have an answer either I get concerned over the use of the term “interpreter.”  The implied meaning of that term is an unbiased translation, while historical interpretation is anything but.