Drawn Dioramas

Mattias Adolfsson’s work reminds me a lot of the Richard Scary books I used to pour over as a child: many of the drawings were complete dioramas, worlds at a glance, that rewarded your lingering:

He has a book out, and I think I will buy it as a gift for my daughter, but I think I would also like to sit down with her with the biggest piece of paper we can find and draw something like this.

Here’s a [direct link to Adolfsson’s site](http://mattiasinks.tumblr.com).

Micro Python

This looks like an interesting convergence of two things I’ve been playing with:


> Micro Python is a lean and fast implementation of the Python 3 programming language that is optimised to run on a microcontroller. The Micro Python board is a small electronic circuit board that runs the Micro Python language.


During some moment in my first few years here at UL, I noted that I had seen the building’s cleaning crew playing cards in the faculty lounge after hours, and I wondered what game they were playing. A few days later I found a note in my mailbox from Phil Gooding, one of our folklore students at the time:

Phil Gooding's Note

Phil Gooding’s Note

Me and the Louisiana Digital Humanities Lab

It would seem that someone, or some people, last week was interested in some confluence of me, the Louisiana Digital Humanities Lab, and the grant I helped to write to get it set up:

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 9.39.18 PM

I have no idea who it was, or is: no one has written or called. The grant narrative itself is available [here][], because, despite my recent experience of having my research program copied, that’s how I think we should proceed. (The copier is a local scoundrel, otherwise, apparently, devoid of creativity. Nothing can be done for/about him.)

As for the Lab, it is still there. We put it together in a kind of “there’s a few of us interested, and maybe we can build some momentum” moment, but a change of administration later, and a new dean, and a lot of the good will, and the tee tiny bit of support, on which such early efforts depend, dried up. *Sigh.* It takes so much energy to nurture a seed, and so little effort to let a sprout wither. It’s amazing really.

What the Lab needs is a refresh: new versions of both the Mac and Windows operating systems as well as an update of the Adobe Creative Suite. (What’s installed works — heck, I still make all my illustrations with AI 5 — but it would be nice to put latest tools in the hands of students.) We could also use an update of the hardware: grab a 3D printer, maybe some micro controller boards like the Arduino or the powerful Raspberry Pi and a variety of electronic components to get students hacking on things.

Could I write that grant? Yup. But not right now. I got books lining up right now, and the American academy still prefers books to anything else.

[here]: http://johnlaudun.org/20081017-louisiana-digital-humanities-lab/


I have the hiking bug, bad. And that’s a tough thing to catch when you live in South Louisiana: especially if the hiking you have in mind looks like this:

Goat Flats in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State

Goat Flats in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State

Reading things like Siddharth Dedhia’s [“2 days. 36 miles.”][sd] only makes it worse. This is the kind of thing I want to do with my daughter. (And with my wife, if she’s willing to join us.)

[sd]: https://medium.com/@siddharthdedhia/2-days-36-miles-one-epic-adventure-in-the-wilderness-of-washington-8ab4c3a8cbcb

Storyworlds in the Classroom

I may very well be a relic, or at least a square peg in an increasingly rounded hole. What do age and shape have to do with anything? Let me first tell you a story…

This past Wednesday, in the course on American folklore I am teaching this semester, we were discussing the way that contemporary legends manage to bridge the gap between what is narrated and the moment of narration so effectively. That is, we can imagine two individuals in conversation, A and B, who having proceeded through some sequence of genres — for example, the exchange of pleasantries followed by a few bits of news, then an anecdote or two, perhaps a joke or a bit of gossip, until one of them, let’s say A, suddenly, says, “Hey, that reminds me, did you hear that….” What follows is a legend. Perhaps it is, as we were discussing on Wednesday, a version of “the boyfriend’s death” or perhaps it is a more current-event-focused legend focused on some food contamination or something of that nature. No matter.

Narrated versus Narration

Narrated versus Narration

A tells B the story using a sequence of words, the narration, that conjures up a narrated world. What is narrated, whether it ever actually happened or not, is a representation of reality, not reality itself. Even if A has just come from running into an old friend at a coffee shop, B has no access to the event except through its representation. How the gap between what happened, or is said to have happened, is crossed from the saying of what happened is what is at stake here.

In the case of many contemporary legends, we can see the bridging/crossing taking place across multiple dimensions: first, legends of this nature tend to draw people into closer proximity, creating a kind of intimacy of narration that is different from other narratives. Let’s call that pragmatic intimacy or pragmatic bridging. Second, it is quite common that the events narrated are said to have happened either to someone the narrator knows, or to someone known by a mutual friend, *or*, as is the case with other legend genres, the events narrated are said to have happened nearby or just recently. In this semantic bridging, or intimacy, any of a number of permutations are possible: close by relationship, close by location, close by time.

The combined effect of pragmatic and semantic bridging is, of course, the erasure of the gap between the real world, the world in which the story is told, and the tale, or the world told or narrated. Such moments occur regularly in oral discourse, which is an amazing thing when you think about it, and their frequent occurrence plays some role, I believe, in the grip that legends can have on us: we are so used to the invocation of storyworlds as reality in everyday speech that we hardly notice a different kind of shift.

It was this careful distinction between reality and the representation of reality that momentarily confused my students. No one said anything, but every teacher or public speaker reading this knows the slight change in facial expressions that cue you to stop for a moment, to digress from the topic at hand into something that needs fleshing out.

And so I found myself given a mini-lecture on the nature of realism, how standards for realistic representation change over time, such that when we look at old movies, read older novels, or even watch television programming from two generations ago, we wonder how the consumers of those fictions could have ever found them believable. To us, they look at least dated if not downright “hokey.” Silly people of a previous time. What fools they were! Why would you think that a static camera with constant medium shots was at all realistic? Then again, I wonder what folks from previous eras would make of the constant motion of today’s cameras.

I’m happy to say that the mini-lecture on realism got them thinking, and allowed us to have the fuller conversation about legends that I wanted us to have. But, in looking back on the moment, I realized that that teachable moment was, to some degree, a function of the size of the class. English 432: American folklore is, by my university’s standards, under-enrolled with 12 or so students in it. (I had to make an argument to the administration that it would be really wrong for one of the two folklorists in the department not to be teaching a folklore course.) But with that many students, not only do I feel comfortable leaving aside the day’s agenda, I am driven to do so by looking at their faces. And with that number of students, I have already gotten to know their faces. With double that number, the course’s preferred enrollment, I know students less well. I read them less well. I teach them less well. (I can still teach them: it just won’t be as well fitted.)

I got tremendous kudos for the way I teach freshman honors English, but it was a class that I had to leave behind because our department head at the time, like our current dean, preferred quantity to quality.

And that is what makes me a relic. I am sorry for my students, who while they attend a regional public university, still hope for a quality education. I want them to know that many of their faculty still hope to give them such an education. But, increasingly, the odds are, ironically, stacked.

Plan and Profile of a Louisiana Landscape

I’m working on the illustrations for _The Makers of Things_. Some get done quickly; some take far longer than I imagined. The illustration that pairs a map view with an elevation cross section proved to be one of the latter (as always, click to embiggen):

Plan and Elevation of Eunice to Mamou

Plan and Elevation of Eunice to Mamou

I’m fairly happy with these stripped-down maps, focusing, I hope, readers’ attention.

Visualizing Time

Many thanks to the folks at O’Reilly for organizing and sponsoring the webcast “It’s About Time: Using Temporal Visualization Techniques to Give Data More Meaning and Context” with Hunter Whitney. Here’s [O’Reilly’s description][]:

> We typically don’t give a moment’s thought to the timing and sequence of most of life’s activities and events, but time and order play a significant role in much of what we do. Further, the overlap between one series of events and another can reveal complex patterns and prompt important insights, once detected. However, most database and visual analytics tools are not equipped to reveal the meaning and context that nuanced time representations can provide. Temporal visualizations can shed new light on many areas from healthcare to cybersecurity to sports, to name a few.
> This webcast will include key ideas, techniques, and practical applications to represent and explore event sequences and their temporal patterns. To illustrate these ideas, a visualization tool called EventFlow will be demonstrated by researchers at the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab, where the tool is being developed.

Here are links both from the presentation and from the group chat:

* The book [Visualization of Time-Oriented Data][] “starts with an introduction to visualization and a number of historical examples of visual representations. At its core, the book presents and discusses a systematic view of the visualization of time-oriented data.”
* [EventFlow][] is software designed by UMD’s HCIL to help hospitals visualize patient-based workflows: what got done when and in what sequence. (It looks very complicated and very specific, but I wonder if it couldn’t be bent to other purposes.)
* The [Wind Map][] is the coolest thing I have seen in a long time.
* [Merely a Node][] has some examples by Whitney.
* A nice example of being able to compare [months][].
* Don’t forget [Google Charts][].

[O’Reilly’s description]: http://www.oreilly.com/pub/e/3139
[Visualization of Time-Oriented Data]: http://timeviz.net
[EventFlow]: http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/eventflow/
[Wind Map]: http://hint.fm/wind/
[Merely a Node]: http://www.merelyanode.com/2014/09/16/temporal-data-examples-from-hunter-whitney/
[months]: http://co2-radar.mybluemix.net/map/AB-aq-history.html
[Google Charts]: https://developers.google.com/chart/interactive/docs/gallery/motionchart