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Archive for March, 2008

What are your initial overall impressions of your colleague’s non-linear hypermedia dream trip?

Overall this was a good overview of Erik’s life and what he finds important… sort of like a photo album with associated commentary and links that provide additional information. I felt like I got to know Erik a bit by delving into his site, and came to an understanding of how he spends his time and what he finds interesting and important. The main pages have a common layout and design, although the supporting pages often deviate. The “look and feel” of the site could use some tweaking – dark blue links on a black background aren’t so good, and in places the text is centered. It is also very clear when you go to supporting pages, as there is no layout there… pictures or words on plain white background, or links to other websites. The navigation also forces the user to use the browser to navigate… most support links do not have a link back into the body of Erik’s website.

Discuss the level of immersion that you sense as you move through the site. On a scale of one to five (five being the most immersive), how immersive is the experience? Discuss the degree to which the site is non-linear?

Again, the navigation mentioned above hinders some of the immersion… especially pages that enter you into other websites. I’d give it a 3 on immersion. For the most part, the site is hierarchical. The non-linear aspect is the in-text links that bring you back to the second tier of the hierarchy. I appreciate the way that these links are tied to appropriate words in the text, but they seem a little strange in what is otherwise a hierarchical setup. I find myself wishing I could have a menu bar or a link back to the first page, but this may be my own discomfort with nonlinearity coming through.

Is there enough content to keep you interested or does it seem as though the site is lacking content?

There is quite a bit of content, but most of it moves away from the core layout of the site and therefore doesn’t quite feel authored as a coherent whole.

Is there are consistent theme or idea that seems to emerge? What is it? How does the non-linearity/linearity direct your attention to the theme or idea? In other words, what are the relationships between the navigation structure and the main idea of the site?
I suppose I would describe the site as an exploration of core values, and therefore the non-linear links show how all of these core values are interconnected. The hierarchical/linear links function to expand on an idea, and the non-linear links show how the core values connect to each other.


What is the most compelling or most interesting part of the site? What is the most uninteresting part of the site?

The youtube video of the guy playing rhythm guitar and percussion at the same time was really cool, as were the collected photos of Erik and his friends/activities. The links to tourist information sites (Wallowa Lake, Joseph, OR, etc.) were not so interesting. I didn’t bother to read them, and found myself avoiding links that I thought would bring me out of Erik’s site.

Are there any problem areas that you see as you navigate? This could be a structural problem or a “404” error, broken links, hidden links, etc. Help your colleague understand why it’s a problem and offer solutions.
Structurally, I didn’t like the dead-end links, especially with the pictures. It seems like the photo pieces could be put into one flash page, or a series of html pages with forward/back links. This would allow the user to cycle through the photo collections without having to go back and click each one individually. Also the thumbnails of the photos are slow to load… looking at the page source it looks like these are jpegs, and probably the originals, which would explain it. Might want to create thumbnails separately as web-ready, small gif files. A 404 error on a picture on the “Friends” page… Also the youtube videos tend to end early, and then change to a screen where you can choose other youtube videos, it says <embed>, etc… might clean this up.


Lastly and most importantly…considering your experience at the site, what are the great ideas that you will carry forth on your own dream trip?

I like the embedded videos. I also like the playful links (“wisley”, “July”)… they’re fun and tell us another aspect of the author’s personality. This also uses a nice mix of text and images.

 

Looks like that’s all the questions. This was fun to look at, and showed that Erik knows how to incorporate different elements to create a multimedia experience.

Thanks.

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You may find my non-linear non-fiction (ah, the limits of words exposed) project here. I encourage you to simply click into it from the home page (you’ll enter randomly) and see if you can figure out the interface. I’m curious to hear how this experience works and doesn’t work. The two links below it you can ignore.
Thanks and enjoy.

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Wolves?

From The Voice, by yours truly, February 21, 2008:

Quietly, day by day, by hoof and paw, wilderness is returning to Oregon.

Moose, long absent from Oregon, are back in Wallowa County. They’ve trickled in to Northeast Oregon from Washington, where their numbers are growing.

Another, less popular, wild animal is also making inroads into our part of the state. Wolves.

Over the last eight years or so, there have been sporadic sightings of wolves in northeastern Oregon. One was hit by a car near Baker City. One was shot near Pendleton, and another was found dead recently near Elgin.

I talked to a rancher up Catherine Creek this summer who was angry about wolves trickling in from Idaho. He refused to buy a hunting license in protest of the state not doing anything about the wolf problem.

He is not alone in his low opinion of wolves. Somehow, wolves spark debate and illustrate some deep divisions between rural and urban voters. It is the Portland liberals, he said, that love wildlife – as long as it isn’t in their backyard. I can see his point.

But at the same time, I can see that times are changing.

The pioneering spirit that settled the West was motivated and justified by the concept of Manifest Destiny. When settlers took to the trail in the 1800’s, they did so with the belief that it was their divine and moral duty to “make something” of the wilderness of the American West.

The beliefs that support Manifest Destiny are rooted in Medieval Europe. As Barry Lopez points out, Europeans in the Middle Ages divided the animals of the world into “stenchy beasts” and “gentle beasts.” The gentle beasts were useful to mankind; the stenchy beasts were the predators and other animals that stood in the way of progress.

Progress was defined as the taming of the wilderness. Civilization, under these beliefs, was a pastoral place where the land was useful and quiet, whereas the wilderness was a place of evil beasts and wasted lands. By civilizing the wilderness, people were following the will of God.

In colonial times, John Adams described America as a “dismal wilderness,” and Cotton Mather called it a “howling wilderness.” Note that word – howling.

In Oregon, the last bounty paid on a wolf carcass was in 1944. The last grizzly was shot in the 1930’s, and buffalo haven’t been seen here since the 1840’s. The motivations for clearing the land are clear and understandable, considering the views of the time and the push to civilize the West.

However, there is a new push in the United States. National parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas have been established to preserve wild areas. Reintroduction efforts for wolves, lynx, and even grizzlies are underway. The perception of wilderness and its value have changed and continue to change. No longer is the landscape valued only for its utility.

Arguments about endangered species, public land use, and even fire suppression still echo back to the Middle Ages and Manifest Destiny. Detractors vilify the government and urbanites for policies that “waste the land.” Predators are seen as dangerous, inhumane, and unpredictable animals that damage human interests.

These arguments are understandable. But it is time to move beyond these old ideals.

I, for one, look forward to the day when my spine tingles at the sound of a quavering, mournful howl. I’ll pay a little more for beef. I’ll donate to the fund that compensates ranchers for lost livestock. Just give me the howling wilderness back.

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Snow

A winter writing… column from February 7, 2008 of The Voice:

In 1885, Wilson Bentley became the first person to photograph a snow crystal. By 1885, he had tried several techniques, and eventually succeeded by attaching a camera to a microscope and using a long shutter speed. He went on to make over 5,000 photographs over the next 46 years. He was quoted as saying “no one design was ever repeated” which gave rise to the common wisdom that no two snowflakes are ever the same.

Snow is a fascinating natural phenomenon. Scientists classify snow crystals into 35 types, from the dull “solid column” to the exquisite “fernlike stellar dendrite,” and there is variation within each class. Each class of crystal is associated with a certain temperature and humidity.

However, what we call snowflakes are usually conglomerations of several or more snow crystals. In 1887, there was a report from Montana of a snowflake that was fifteen inches across! But then again, I think they drink a lot during the long Montana winters…

Here again, environmental factors such as temperature and wind affect the likelihood of larger flakes. The type of snowfall can change rapidly with minor changes in temperature and humidity.

The more complex forms of snow crystals tend to form at warmer temperatures. Because of various arms and fernlike appendages, these forms are more likely to stick to each other. So, warm temperatures often lead to large snowflakes. Colder temperatures create more simple crystal structures, and therefore smaller flakes, or even a mist of individual snow crystals at truly cold temperatures.

When these individual crystals and flakes reach the ground, they create a blanket of snow that is largely composed of air. This is why snow is such excellent insulation.

One source claims that ten inches of fresh snow has the equivalent insulation factor of six inches of fiberglass insulation. This makes sense, since fresh snow consists of 90-95 percent air.

Therefore a layer of snow can do much to shelter plants, insects and hibernating animals from cold winter temperatures. In Finland, ground temperature beneath a snowpack was usually around zero degrees when the ambient air temperature was sixty below zero.

Rodents also benefit from what is known as depth hoar. Most of us have seen hoar frost on cold mornings – it is a layer of delicate shards of ice that forms on the surface of the snow. It can be truly beautiful, but backcountry travelers recognize it as a potential “weak layer” in a snow pack that can lead to avalanches.

This same sort of hoar also forms at the bottom of the snow pack, at ground level. Not only does the snow insulate creatures like rodents from bitter cold air, but it also forms a weak layer at the bottom which makes tunneling easy. It is a rodent paradise.

A good layer of snow is a benefit in the winter. It keeps pipes from freezing, it keeps my heat bill down, and it provides most of the water that gets us through the dry summer.

Yes, it makes the roads slow going, and it makes us keep a shovel by the front door.

But at least we can take comfort in the fact that La Grande doesn’t get much snow compared to some other places. The record? Mt. Baker during the 1998-99 season received 95 feet of snow. That’s a lot of shoveling.

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Coyote

Bored of columns? Here’s another… January 24, 2008 in The Voice. People actually read this one, I think.

National Agricultural Statistics Service found that predators accounted for 2% of cattle losses and 3% of calf losses for the state. Bad weather accounted for seven times as many deaths.

I think there’s something else at work. We drove wolves and grizzly bears to local extinction. We tried (and are still trying) just as hard with coyotes. But it doesn’t work. Instead, their range has expanded.

Coyotes evolved in the shadow of wolves and grizzlies. They are adaptable. When we hunt them, they breed faster. They’re clever; they know how to hide. We hate them because we can’t control them.

Wild animals, predators even, living right under our noses. There’s something beautiful and admirable about that, I think.

So I encourage this: Bring a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, and go find some coyotes to watch. They are beautiful animals, and entertaining to watch. But as you observe, remember that you are looking at a survivor. Coyote’s people watched our people first wander into this valley.

We are the transplants.

We might just have something to learn from coyote.

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Tracking

Yet another column… this one in The Voice on November 29, 2007:

Piercing cold and ridgelines glowing white in the moonlight. Cloaked firs and pines wait for the wind to undress new coats and send them shimmering down. Snow has fallen.

Up there in the high places there are stories being written. Reading them requires a different sort of literacy, and a willingness to follow. I speak of footprints, tracks, traces of passing.

Today I grew weary of Foucault and the glow of the computer and drove to Spring Creek to see what stories were left for me to discover. A ten minute drive on the freeway and another five got me far enough in and away to feel like I’d left La Grande and entered the solitude of the woods.

Wandering a forest road, I found the snowfall to be less than I’d hoped. Not even an inch, and swaths of open ground along the roads and circling the trunks of firs. But still enough.

The prints of squirrels crossed and re-crossed the road, disappearing into logs, leaping into trees. Here the crisp tracks of a junco hopped along before disappearing with the faintest impression of feathers on snow. The dragging toes of mule deer followed the worn trails of their kind and left the road behind.

And finally… the delicate prints of a coyote merged with the road before diverging up the hill and away. A trail worth following. For me, anyway. I’m a lover of coyotes.

If you have never followed the tracks of animal in fresh snow, you have missed out on a wonderful way of seeing the world. It starts in just following the trail, but soon curiosity finds you wondering and imagining.

Here coyotes tracks compress, toe-to-heel for a little stretch, as if something caught her interest and she slowed to a careful stalk. Across the open the tracks spread, as if loping. Then suddenly a stop and a diversion to the side and back. You imagine the nose in the grass, searching.

In the black hole of barren ground under a tree you lose her for yards, and on the other side two tracks emerge, and another joins. A hollow log is a maelstrom of track on track, but no blood, no fur, so I imagine the squirrel lived this day. Fresh feet of a squirrel bound away.

They take me up the hill and into a draw, but before long the watch feels heavy on my hand and civilization calls me back. The hardest part of following a track is letting it go. Wonder creeps in… what happens just up ahead?

These days are precious. New snow on barren ground means easy walking and clear tracks. No snowshoes needed yet. Take advantage of these in-between days, there are stories out there waiting to be read.

Walking the road out, there are new tracks crossing. Three coyotes gain the road and pause at my own booted prints. I’d like to think they watched me pass, and I never would have known save for the telltale marks left in the snow. They pause a moment, perhaps in wonder, and then move on.

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Altitudinal

Here’s a column published in The Voice on November 7, 2007:

Unfamiliar chips and trills from the brush, a flash of white tail feathers. Here at a time when most birds have fled Oregon for Spanish-speaking climes, there is a new bird prowling the lawns of La Grande – the dark-eyed junco.

You will usually see them flushing from the ground as you walk a sidewalk. They’ll perch up for a while, probably chipping at you, and then return to the ground after you pass.

Generally, you won’t see juncos in the summer unless you climb up and out of La Grande.

They nest in the foothills and high into the mountains. Although the males will perch at the tips of trees to sing and proclaim their territory, the nest actually sits on the ground. I’ve found many junco nests when females flushed off a nest near my feet.

Juncos are a wonderful local example of what biologists call altitudinal migration. While other birds take advantage of wings and a lack of government to seek warmer climes in the winter, the junco uses a different strategy. Juncos move up and down in elevation according to the season. Here in the river bottom of La Grande, it is hard to find a junco in the summer, but flocks of them are a common sight in the winter.

If I’ve piqued your interest in juncos, take a moment to look at a few. You might notice some differences among them.

Some have black heads, some don’t. Some have rufous flanks, while others are mostly gray. What is going on here?

A look at any bird guide will illuminate most of these differences, and it brings up another point about juncos – we have two kinds here in the winter. First there is the Oregon race of the dark-eyed junco. They’re the ones with the dark heads and the rufous sides. Black heads for males, and gray heads for females.

Then there is the slate-colored race. They are much plainer birds… gray overall with white stomachs.

But here’s a surprise. The slate-colored race doesn’t breed here. They breed in Canada and into Alaska.

So that innocent flock of juncos in your yard is, in truth, a complex illustration of the different ways that birds deal with the arrival of winter. The dark-eyed junco is fascinating because there are two different races (which we can tell apart) which employ different migrational strategies. The Oregon race is an altitudinal migrant, and the slate-colored race is a traditional, north-south migrant.

But don’t trust me. Pay attention. Do both races stay for the whole winter? Do any juncos summer in La Grande? When do they leave? When do they arrive?

Questions beget more questions. Why are there races within a species? Why migrate at all?

I would give you my opinion, but my fingers grow tired, and my answers grow thin. There are some birds outside right now. A dove has just flown in. It is time to go out and look.

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